Tips on How and Where to Report Child Abuse
NOTE: If you
are a mandated reporter outside California, please check your
state's mandated reporting law to determine if your law, like
California and many other states, allows mandated reporters the
option of reporting to law enforcement rather than to CPS.
* Whether you are
a mandated reporter, an advocate, or a non-offending parent who
suspects child abuse, DO NOT report to child protective services
unless other options have failed. (see above note.) Make your
child abuse report to police or other law enforcement agency,
at least initially.
The best way to protect
the non-offending parent and the child victim from the inherent
risks and abuses of the CPS system is to stay as far away from
CPS as possible. If you are a mandated reporter, or any individual
wishing to make a child abuse report, we highly recommend that
you choose to make your report to law enforcement (i.e. to police
or sheriff), and not to CPS.
Remember, most state
laws give mandated reporters a choice of where they can make their
mandated reports. Contrary to widespread mistaken belief, mandated
reporters in these states do not have to make their reports to
CPS. (To see the text of California state law and earlier discussion
of this point go to:
In California and Many Other States,
Mandated Reporters Do NOT Have to Report to Child Protective Services.)
Here's an abbreviated
review of why we strongly recommend that you make child abuse
reports to law enforcement rather than to CPS. (For more discussion
of these points go back to Part 1 here.)
- In broad summary,
the criminal justice system responds to family violence, including
child abuse, as crime. The criminal justice system aims to hold
the offender accountable for the acts of child abuse, and to
do so using a rigorous standard of evidence. At the same time,
the criminal justice system does not and cannot assert any authority
or control over the non-offending parent's life because under
the criminal system the non-offending parent has not committed
any crime. The criminal system strives to remove the abuser
from the home, and not the child victim. Thus, by reporting
to the criminal justice system, the primary response will be
an effort to hold the perpetrator accountable. There will be
virtually no risk that the non-offending parent will be investigated.
And there will be a lower risk that the child will be removed
from the non-offending parent, thus avoiding an event that is
extremely traumatic and unjust for both the child victim and
the non-offending parent.
- In contrast, the
CPS/juvenile court system is not designed to treat child abuse,
or any family violence, as crime. The CPS system does not seek
to hold the child abuse offender accountable, and has virtually
no power to do so. CPS does not have the power to open, nor
to carry out, a criminal investigation, does not have the power
of arrest, nor does CPS have the power to prosecute perpetrators.
The only significant power CPS has is the power to remove children
from one or both parents.
the CPS system, unlike the criminal system, will frequently
target the non-offending parent; i.e., will likely investigate
the non-offending parent for non-criminal behavior such as 'failure
to protect', 'knowing or should have known', 'instability',
'parental alienation', 'failure to cooperate', and other such
vague, arbitrary, and non-criminal accusations. CPS will likely
mandate the non-offending parent into a host of programs, and
will do so using the threat of taking the child from the non-offending
parent, or of not returning the child, which determination the
CPS system makes on the lowest judicial standard of evidence
with minimal due process protections for the parent. In general,
the CPS system is geared to treat the non-offending parent more
as a co-perpetrator than as an additional primary or secondary
victim of the abuser. So, by reporting to CPS, there is no possibility
CPS will hold the perpetrator accountable, and a serious risk
that the child victim will be removed from the home and/or from
the non-offending parent, and that the non-offending parent
will be unjustly put under CPS investigation, controls, and
threat of losing their child.
- The victim assistance
programs in the criminal justice system provide social and counseling
services to the child and/or the non-offending parent only when
the non-offending parent wishes to receive these services. The
criminal system victim assistance programs never force the child
or non-offending parent to participate in any program, and never
threatens to take a child if the non-offending parent chooses
not to participate in social or psychological services offered.
- In stark contrast,
CPS frequently mandates that the non-offending parent participate
in a whole set of social service programs and tasks under an
accompanying threat to take the child, or to not return the
child. In this regard, again, CPS is treating the non-offending
parent more as a CO-perpetrator of the abuse, than as an additional
primary or secondary victim of the abuse.
- The criminal justice
system never mandates or pressures that the non-offending parent
or child meet, mediate, or reunite with the perpetrator. Nor
does the criminal justice system order the non-offending parent
to stay-away from the perpetrator. The criminal justice system
has no power or jurisdiction over the non-offending parent because
under criminal law the non-offending parent and the child victim
are not suspected of committing any crime.
CPS regularly mandates
non-offending parents and/or the child to meet, mediate, co-counsel,
reunify with, or stay away from, the perpetrator, and to do
so under threat of CPS taking the child, or of not returning
the child, to the non-offending parent.
- The police-criminal
justice process does not take action unless it has developed
sufficient evidence to substantiate facts of abuse. Nor does
the criminal system investigate family matters beyond what is
relevant to the immediate question of who perpetrated the abuse
and how. The criminal system cannot take punitive action against
an individual until the individual has been afforded the most
rigorous standard of due process.
The CPS/juvenile court
system develops evidence of the abuse at the most minimal standard
of evidence. At the same time, the CPS system extends the reach
of its investigation over the whole family as far and wide and
as deep as CPS wishes. The CPS system can move to remove a child
from the non-offending parent at the lowest judicial standard
of evidence on vaguely defined non-criminal accusations with
only the weakest system of due process in place to protect this
parent from CPS abuses.
NOTE 1: If you
make your child abuse report to police, it may be that at one
point or other the police themselves may call in CPS to participate
in handling the case to one degree or another. However, even if
CPS does begin to take a role in the case, the non-offending parent
and the child will still generally be much better off than if
you had only made your report to CPS. This is because the criminal
system will generally continue to take the lead in the case. In
addition, even in the eventuality that the criminal system cannot
produce enough evidence to obtain a criminal conviction, the police
investigation, by itself, will often produce much evidence that's
useful and protective to the non-offending parent in dealing with
NOTE 2: Yes,
the criminal system can be just as abusive as the CPS system.
But, in general, the criminal justice system is very unlikely
to target the non-offending parent. In addition, any criminal
justice abuses against the non-offending parent would be an individual
officer failing to follow established policy. As such, this abuse
would be easier to correct. The abuses of the CPS system against
the non-offending parent, on the other hand, are built into the
CPS system. When CPS unjustly targets the mother as subject of
investigation, accusations, and threats to take the child, these
abuses are difficult to correct with advocacy, because they fall
within the scope of standard CPS policy and practice.
NOTE 3: According
to a large array of studies, child abuse and domestic violence
coexist in the same family in from 30 to 50% of cases, and in
the vast majority of these cases it's the same parent that is
the perpetrator of both the child abuse and the partner abuse.
Because this is such a common dynamic, an effective strategy is
to report both the child abuse and the partner abuse to police.
This greatly increases the likelihood that police will be able
to get a conviction on at least one of the counts.
And remember, also,
that most perpetrators of family violence are committing an array
of related of crimes such as threats to kill, vandalism, false
imprisonment, sexual violence, etc. If there's not enough evidence
on one crime, there's likely plenty on the next. So don't just
report the child abuse. Report any and all the domestic violence
related crimes you suspect have been committed.
NOTE 4: State
laws require that mandated reporters make their child abuse reports
to authorities in writing. But even if you're not a mandated reporter,
it's still a good idea to make your initial report in writing
as well as to report verbally. Don't forget to keep a copy for
NOTE 5: In the
civil rights case of Nicholson v. Scoppetta a number of experts
testified that the trauma to children of being removed from the
non-offending parent by a child welfare agency can be as severe
or more severe than the trauma of witnessing domestic violence.
The trauma to the child of being removed from the non-offending
parent, according to these experts, is, in fact, exacerbated when
there has been abuse in the home. (Nicholson v. Scoppetta was a
class action civil rights lawsuit brought by mothers, domestic
violence victims, who had their children removed by New York child
welfare agencies for the sole reason that the mothers had 'failed
to protect' the children from 'exposure' to domestic violence.
The case resulted in a settlement in favor of the mothers and
an injunction against New York child welfare agencies forbidding
the agencies to remove children from non-offending parents solely
because they were victims of domestic violence.)
Watchdog the Police
If you make your initial
child abuse report to law enforcement, it may be that the police
officer will willingly take your report, work hard to investigate
the case, and then pass it on to a prosecutor who will also work
hard to see that justice is done and that the child victim and
other non-offending family members are safe. Things are getting
better, however slowly that may be.
But be aware. A significant
number of police and prosecutors themselves still hold to the
mind set that family violence should not be treated as a crime.
Some of these officers will say and do whatever they can to get
rid of you and the case, despite the fact that US state laws require
that police treat family violence as crime. These officers may
refuse to take the report, tell you to go elsewhere to make the
report, shelve the report, fail to fully investigate, discourage
the victims, lie to you and the victim, or use any one of hundreds
of other ways they have of getting rid of cases they don't want
There are a number
of resources available on our website to help you evaluate whether
or not you're getting a proper criminal justice system response,
and to help you press for corrections if needs be. See Advocating
for Women in the Criminal Justice System
Here we give just a
couple tips on what to watch for at the starting point as you
attempt to make your initial report to police.
- If for any reason
the officer tells you you have to make your report elsewhere,
the officer is wrong. An officer might tell you that you have
to make this kind of report to CPS. Or, they may tell you that
you're making the report to the wrong jurisdiction and that
you have to go to another department. They may tell you that
what you describe is not a criminal matter. They may tell you
that since the child is too young to testify, police can't do
anything on the case, etc., etc., etc..
None of these statements justify police refusal to take a child
abuse report, and they're usually incorrect to begin with. Under
most state laws, as in California, police are obligated to take
Here again is the section of text of the California law that
mandates that police take your report. We have bolded the sections
that pertain to this point.
Penal Code Section 11165.9
11165.9. Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall
be made by mandated reporters, or in the case of reports pursuant
to Section 11166.05, may be made, to any police department
or sheriff's department, not including a school district police
or security department, county probation department, if designated
by the county to receive mandated reports, or the county welfare
department. Any of those agencies shall accept a report
of suspected child abuse or neglect whether offered by a mandated
reporter or another person, or referred by another agency,
even if the agency to whom the report is being made lacks
subject matter or geographical jurisdiction to investigate
the reported case, unless the agency can immediately electronically
transfer the call to an agency with proper jurisdiction. When
an agency takes a report about a case of suspected child abuse
or neglect in which that agency lacks jurisdiction, the agency
shall immediately refer the case by telephone, fax, or electronic
transmission to an agency with proper jurisdiction. Agencies
that are required to receive reports of suspected child abuse
or neglect may not refuse to accept a report of suspected
child abuse or neglect from a mandated reporter or another
person unless otherwise authorized pursuant to this section,
and shall maintain a record of all reports received.
Remember, the reason
California and so many other states have felt the need to pass
a law mandating that police take child abuse reports is precisely
because there are still so many police who wrongly continue
to try to dump these cases in order to get out of doing these
- If an officer outright
refuses to take your report, or attempts to get you to make
your report elsewhere, the best thing to do is to immediately
call the officer's supervisor, or call the police agency's on-call
sergeant, or the head of the family violence unit. There's just
no sense continuing to deal with an officer who has already
shown he or she is willing to violate the law to get out of
responding even minimally to child abuse.
But even if
an officer does seem to be taking your report, you should still
make sure the officer properly categorizes the report as a crime
case report, and not just an informational report. The way to
do this is to ask the officer for the crime case number after
the officer has taken your report. One of the first things a
police officer does when they begin to write a report is to
obtain the assignment of a crime report number for the case
from the main office. Crime report numbers are a matter of public
record, even in child abuse cases. So if an officer refuses
to give you the crime report number for the case that you're
reporting, that's a pretty good indication things are headed
in the wrong direction right from the start. Once again, it's
time to make a phone call up the ranks.
- Don't feel shy about
calling police supervisors or the on-call sergeant Remember,
any officer that doesn't properly take a child abuse report
is not simply violating the law. That officer is also attempting
to deny protection and justice to the most vulnerable in society.
Remember, too, your taxes pay these officers to do their job
right. So don't be shy. Make that phone call up the ranks until
you're assured the your report is properly taken.
NOTE 1: With
the possibility of encountering obstructions and resistance when
reporting child abuse to police, you may be asking yourself, why
should I even bother? Especially when CPS is more than willing
to take the report without any fuss?
That's an easy question
to answer. It's much like the question, why should women in the
19th century have bothered with the struggle to get admitted into
universities when they could so easily be admitted to finishing
schools with no hassle at all? Clearly, the answer was that the
real education was in the universities, and that education was
worth fighting for. For the same reason, it's worth a possible
extra effort to get police to handle your child abuse report properly,
because the real powers of protection and justice for women and
children are in the criminal justice system, and not in the CPS
Tips for Dealing with CPS if CPS has already opened a case
regarding abuse of your child.
tips, as with the entirety of this text, are designed to
support the needs and rights of the non-offending, nonviolent
If you are the non-offending
parent and CPS has already opened a case regarding your child,
you probably already know you are in a difficult situation. First,
you've likely been dealing with a violent or abusive family member
for some time. Now, on top of that, you're dealing with CPS.
It would be nice to
believe that you're finally connected to an agency that really
wants to help you. But you may have begun to sense the frightening
reality that CPS is a powerful government agency that is plowing
through the most intimate details of your life with the very real
possibility they can take your child from you. Or perhaps CPS
is ordering you into a complex of social programs under threat
of taking your child if you don't comply. Or CPS may have already
taken your child, and is setting conditions you must follow in
order to get your child back. Instead of feeling helped, it seems
the height of injustice that suddenly it's your behavior that's
being judged, and your parental rights that are being threatened,
even though everyone agrees you're not the one who perpetrated
Before anything else,
understand that the intense fears and sense of betrayal you may
be feeling as you deal with CPS are natural reactions to the unpredictable
and often abusive exercise of power by the CPS/juvenile court
system. CPS really can hurt you. CPS really can impose extensive
controls over your life. And CPS can take your child using only
the most flimsy of accusations against you, and based on virtually
no evidence at all, with only the weakest mechanism of due process
to protect you - even if you have done nothing wrong.
The reason it's so
important that you know your anxiety is a normal reaction is so
that you don't start feeling worse about yourself, or start feeling
that you're going crazy, or thinking that you're the only one
this has happened to. In order to get CPS out of your life and
get your children back home securely in your custody, you're going
to need to think clearly, and keep yourself from panicking. You're
going to have to pay close attention, and learn how this system
works. And you're probably going to have to keep up this struggle
for some time. You just can't do that if you're feeling down on
yourself, defeated, and in despair. At the very least, try to
keep in mind that there is a growing awareness of the injustices
and near tyranny of the CPS system, and increasing efforts to
correct these injustices, particularly as they pertain to the
non-offending parent. You are not crazy for feeling victimized
by CPS, and you're not alone in your fight.
Because decisions made
by the CPS system are so arbitrary and unpredictable, there are
no guarantees that you can prevail. But if you follow the tips
below, if you recognize that it's going to take some time, you
can give yourself and your child the best possible chance that
CPS will do more to help you than to hurt you. It will probably
take a while. So get ready for the long haul. Step by step you
probably can get CPS out of your life, and your children safely
and securely in your home. So don't give up in despair.
The tips that follow
should help you do this as smoothly and as gently as possible.
Learn as much as you can about how and why the CPS system poses
serious risks to you, the non-offending parent.
The better you can
understand why and how CPS is so prone to target the non-offending
parent, the more you're going to automatically know how to handle
yourself and your case with CPS. So as a number one step to protecting
yourself as you deal with CPS, learn as much as you can about
how this system works.
Here are some information
sources on the CPS/juvenile court system:
Part 1 of this text if you haven't already done so. It will
help you understand where and how the CPS system poses risks
to you. It's fairly long. So even if you don't have time to
read all of it, try at the very least to read the topic headings.
In addition to the Part 1 section, there are a number of links
to other informative guides and documents that can help answer
your questions along the way.
helpful document that gives step by step explanation of the
CPS/Juvenile court process is this one, A
Family's Guide to the Child Welfare Service System. It's
very clearly written and well organized so you can quickly get
the information you need.
you might find useful as you go through the process is the policy
manual of your state's child welfare agency. Many states have
their child welfare agency manual on the web. You can probably
find it by going to the web site of your state's social service
department and following links from there. Or, you can ask your
CPS worker how to locate a copy. Remember, CPS is a government
agency. So you have a right to see any and all CPS documents.
All CPS documents, except for materials pertaining to other
people's cases, must be made available to you on request.
It can also be very
helpful if you're willing to look up your state laws that govern
the CPS/juvenile court process. In California all of this law
is in searchable form on the net. For California law governing
CPS, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html
, click on the Welfare and Institutions Code, and begin your
Still another very
helpful source of information is a Yahoo Groups Email list called
There are many people on this list who are going through the
same kind of experience as yourself. And there are also people
on the list who are very informed about the process, and willing
to help others with their cases. But remember, these people
are not professionals. So don't blindly trust the information
There are a number
of additional informative web sites and Email lists that can
be helpful in guiding you through the CPS process. But, as with
everything you read on the Internet, be careful. One particular
problem you should look out for in CPS information sites is
that some of these sites are put together by child abusers who
are upset with CPS for very different reasons than your reasons.
In all your dealings with CPS, even if your worker seems friendly
and helpful, always keep in mind that the CPS system is NOT your
friend, NOT your counselor, and NOT your advocate. Understand
that you are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with
CPS, that you are being evaluated and investigated by CPS, that
CPS can take your child, and that every thing you say can and
often will be used against you.
The very words 'child
protective services' sound so humanitarian, and so in tune with
what mothers want, especially those mothers who are dealing with
a violent partner, that women frequently make the serious mistake
of thinking that CPS is their friend. Or they think that CPS will
at least by on the same side with them, or that CPS will naturally
work to support their needs and interests. This mistaken belief
is even easier to fall into when the CPS worker is friendly or
tells you directly that she or he wants to help you. In fact,
your worker may truly believe that he or she is there to help
you. CPS workers themselves are often blind to the underlying
dynamics of the system they work for.
The reality is that
CPS system is a government agency armed with the enormous power
to take your child, and to do so on only the most minimal pretext,
with only the smallest sliver of evidence, and minimal due process
rights for you. The CPS system is set up to investigate and judge
whether or not you are a fit parent, even when everyone knows
you are not the one who abused your child.
So, if you are a non-offending
parent, in all your dealings with CPS, remember, CPS is not your
friend! CPS is not your counselor! CPS is not your advocate! If
you always keep this in mind, it will help you avoid some common
and tragic mistakes. It will also help you to take basic, but
critical steps to protect yourself from CPS abuses of power along
Here are the kinds
of mistakes so many women fall into when they believe that CPS
is on their side. Women often pour their hearts out to CPS. They
open their homes and family life to CPS, and give CPS all kinds
of intimate information that CPS then can, and often will, use
against you. Another big mistake women make when they think CPS
is on their side, is that they trust that CPS is looking after
their interests. They let their guard down. They don't pay attention
to what's going on. They don't prepare and protect themselves.
And, all too often, they don't wake up until it's too late.
just one example of the kind of tragedy that occurs over and
over again when women think CPS is on their side. An exhausted
mother has been coping with an abusive husband for years. One
day her 10-year-old daughter tells a teacher that the reason
she's late to school is because her father got in a fight with
her mother after breakfast and he started beating her mother.
The teacher reports this to CPS. The CPS worker tells the mother
she wants to help the family. The mother bares her heart to
the worker. The mother tells the CPS worker how stressed she
has been. How much trouble she has sleeping. How fearful she
is in the home. She tells CPS that a year ago she went to a
shelter, but soon returned to the abusive husband because she
didn't think she could make enough money to feed the children.
She says she tries to warn the children against being around
the father when he gets in that mood. She says she doesn't know
what to do.
Then one day the
mother gets a copy of the written CPS report. She is stunned
to read that the worker has written that 'this mother is out
of control, can't cope, is mentally unstable and unable to protect
the child', and that, furthermore, the mother is 'alienating
the children from the father'. And that based on this, CPS is
petitioning the court to remove the child from the mother.
It happens like this
over and over again. So right from the beginning, understand that
CPS is geared up and empowered to protect children against parents.
CPS is not working on your behalf. Even if CPS lines up a whole
set of programs for you to attend to help you keep your child,
you need to realize that if you don't comply with these programs
to CPS satisfaction, CPS holds the threat of taking your child.
This does not constitute a friendly relationship. Even though
every one agrees that you did not abuse the child, you are in
an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS, and a particularly
precarious adversarial relationship at that.
The proof that you
are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship with CPS is
that (in most states) the juvenile court must assign you an attorney
to represent your interests and protect you from CPS powers when
you're in court with CPS. This is a huge clue that even the courts
recognize that you, the non-offending parent, are in an adversarial
relationship with CPS and that you need legal protection from
Another way to look
at this is to understand that the only special power authorized
to the CPS/juvenile court system is a power that can hurt you
badly, i.e., the power to take your child. CPS is not empowered
in any special way to help you. It's true that CPS can give you
referrals to various social and psychological services, but those
are all things that you can do for yourself. Worse yet, when CPS
gives you these referrals, they are usually mandated referrals
given under threat of losing your child if you don't comply. But
in terms of any unique governmental power designed to help you,
the non-offending parent, CPS has nothing. CPS is not empowered
to hold the perpetrator accountable, is not empowered to obtain
justice for either you or your child, and is not empowered to
It's critical that
you understand that once CPS opens a case on your child, even
though everyone knows you are not the abuser, you are being investigated
and judged by the CPS system. And a determination is being made
as to whether or not to take your child. This is not a friendly
relationship. You are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship
It's worth repeating.
It does not matter how helpful, encouraging, or humanitarian your
individual CPS worker might be, the CPS system is NOT your friend.
They are investigating you. You are under threat of losing your
NOTE: The CPS
system was established in the middle of last century at a time
when women's and children's rights within the family were not
well established. Family violence was not viewed as a crime, i.e.
was not viewed as a serious offense against society. A man's home
was his castle, and women and children were his legal inferiors.
CPS was structured in a way to conform to these very patriarchal
views, and, for the most part, CPS structure and operation remains
legally locked into those outdated and oppressive modes today.
Because the CPS/juvenile court system is NOT your friend, and
because you are in an adversarial (oppositional) relationship
* Do not pour your
heart out to CPS.
Always remember that anything you say to anyone in the CPS system
can, and often will, be used against you. So don't pour your heart
out to CPS workers, or to mediators, evaluators, investigators,
court personnel, or anyone else. Think before you speak. Always
be aware that, a) these workers are experienced at drawing out
statements from you that you would not have given if you had time
to think about it, b) they have the power to take your child,
and c) your words can easily be misrepresented.
Also, be aware that
even if you can handle yourself well in business and social situations,
it doesn't mean you'll be able to handle yourself well in conversations
with the CPS system. This is because the subject matter of your
conversations with CPS is so near and dear and painful to your
heart. This makes you very vulnerable to the slightest of manipulations.
Many CPS workers don't hesitate to play on this vulnerability.
* Decide carefully
about when and how to assert your rights. Understand how you
are in a double bind when you assert your rights with CPS. Once
you realize the risks of saying too much in your conversations
with CPS, you might conclude that your best bet is just not talk
to CPS at all. After all, like everyone else in America, you have
a right to remain silent. Indeed, if you were being accused of
a crime in the criminal system, every attorney in the world would
advise you to remain silent. 'Don't even talk to the police',
they would tell you. 'Anything you say can and will be used against
you in a court of law.' Even a person accused of murder has a
right to remain silent, and to refuse to cooperate with government
officials unless ordered to do so by a judge.
Naturally, you have
the same rights to remain silent in your dealings with the CPS
system. Additionally, you have a right to refuse to let CPS into
your home unless CPS has obtained a search warrant. You have a
right not to cooperate with CPS. You have a right not to participate
in any of the programs CPS says it wants you to go to. And you
have many other rights as well. After all, you live in America,
right? And no government agency can start ordering your life around,
telling you to do this or that, or to go here or there, if they
don't apply due process and present solid evidence in a court
of law proving you did something against the law. The only order
you have to obey is a judge's order!
But here's the other
half of the 'damned if you do, and damned if you don't' dilemma
you have with CPS. On the one hand, since you're in an adversarial
relationship with CPS, the best legal advice would be for you
to assert your rights. On the other hand, CPS wields the ultimate
awesome power of being able to take your child with the vaguest
of accusations, the most minimal of evidence, and only the very
weakest system of due process in place to protect you. And that
right there is the catch. The double bind you are in. The terrible
injustice and the near tyranny of CPS power.
The legal and evidentiary
constraints on CPS powers are so minimal, that if you do assert
your rights to CPS, the CPS worker can easily retaliate against
you using the system's virtually unchecked power against you.
The worker can easily make vague and prejudiced accusations against
you such as 'instability', 'alienating your child from the other
parent', 'failure to protect', 'should have known about the abuse',
or 'engaging in domestic violence' even though you're the victim
of the violence. (None of which accusations are crimes.) And then
the worker can support that accusation against you in the juvenile
court with the smallest tidbit of evidence, even the most bogus
of evidence, or with evidence that wouldn't even be admissible
in a criminal court. And with that the CPS system can take your
(Remember, the CPS/juvenile
court system operates on the 'preponderance of the evidence' standard,
51% of the evidence, the lowest judicial standard of evidence.
This means that all CPS has to do is present to the court 1% more
evidence on their side than you present on your side, and CPS
wins. So once CPS makes an accusation against you, it is extremely
difficult for you to defend yourself, and very easy for CPS to
railroad the case against you.)
So here are a couple tips for asserting your rights with CPS
above adds up to the fact that you have to make some very careful
and difficult decisions about if, when, and how you want to assert
your rights with CPS. The goal is for you to get the most benefit
and protection from asserting your rights while at the same time
remaining cooperative enough to keep from triggering CPS into
making new accusations against you. Our general advice is that
if or when you do assert your rights, be sure to do so in a tone
that is cooperative, professional, and polite.
are some suggestions for different degrees of asserting your rights:
a. In a situation
where a CPS worker intrudes on you and you want to temporarily
back them down and keep the situation more under your own control.
For example, if a
CPS worker knocks on your door and wants to come into your home,
instead of saying, "Show me a search warrant or take a
hike!", try this. Give the worker a friendly greeting,
and say, "I'm sorry but this time won't work for me. I'm
already late getting to an appointment. Please call me tomorrow
morning and I'll make an appointment with you."
Or if a CPS worker
calls you on the phone, tell the worker you can't talk right
now. Tell the worker you'd like to make an appointment later.
Or if you're asked a question you don't want to answer, don't
say, "That's none of your damn business," no matter
how offensive the question. Tell the worker you don't feel the
question is relevant, or that you'd like to answer the question
at another time. Or, better yet, tell the worker you'd like
to answer the question in writing. This gives you time to think
through your answer. It guarantees your words won't get misrepresented.
And at the same time, it shows your willingness to cooperate.
Keeping meeting times
under your control at least gives you psychological advantages
as well as the benefit of being able to prepare for your interactions
with CPS. It also sends a clear message to the CPS worker that
you won't be easily trampled upon. But remember that one rule
to live by to make this work best for you is to always keep
your manner of communication cooperative, professional, and
Another rule to live
by is this. Try not to get upset if the worker gets intimidating
For example, if a
worker says to you, "Either you let me into your home now,
or next time I come back it will be to take your child,"
don't take the bait! Don't panic. Don't say, "Over my dead
body!" Instead, take a breath. Be confident in standing
your ground. And just repeat your position, "I'm sorry,
I'm late for an appointment. Call me tomorrow and I'll be happy
to make an appointment! Remember, CPS workers are fully aware
of your rights, so don't let them goad you into relinquishing
those rights, or into responding in a way that can later be
used against you.
NOTE 1: Yes,
there's no doubt about it. It's very difficult to keep your
balance emotionally when you're dealing with CPS because just
the thought of losing your child strikes at the core of your
being. And the thought of losing your child to an unjust abuse
of power, ignites every cell in your body into panic and rage.
Holding back your instincts in these moments is a near unbearable
act of restraint. So you need to remind yourself again and again
and again. The best way to save your child is to maintain your
cool in all interactions with the CPS system.
NOTE 2: Always
write up notes for yourself on these interactions with CPS right
after they occur.
b. Set conditions
on your dealings with CPS.
Another way of asserting
your rights and shifting the balance of power a little more
in your favor is by setting conditions on your dealings with
CPS. One condition that we highly recommend is that you only
meet with CPS if you are permitted to tape record the meetings.
Another condition that we highly recommend is that you always
have a support person accompany you in all your interactions
with the CPS system.
Before you set such
conditions, think it through ahead of time. Think it through
a couple of moves so that you don't get caught off guard. And
so that you can keep things moving in the direction that most
suits your needs. What do you want to do if the CPS worker says,
'no, you can't tape record the meeting'? Do you want to give
in at that point and go ahead with the meeting? Do you want
to go to the worker's supervisor? Do you want to ask that the
meeting be postponed until the issue gets resolved? Or do you
want to simply walk away and refuse to meet? The only right
answer to these questions is the answer you come to after thinking
it over ahead of time.
If you want to protest
a refusal of any of your conditions, do so in writing. Write
a short note to the worker's supervisor or other ranking official.
Explain that you want to cooperate, but that you also want the
worker to respect your rights. Keep it short. Keep a copy. And
remember: cooperative, professional, polite!
NOTE: In California,
you have a right to tape record in person meetings either openly
or clandestinely, but you do not have a right to secretly tape
record telephone conversations. Be sure and check the laws in
c. In situations
where you want to fully assert your fundamental rights, always
try to do so in writing.
If you want to fully
assert your fundamental right to remain silent, or to absolutely
refuse unwarranted entry into your home, or to assert any other
of the many rights you have, do so as much as possible in writing.
Date, write, and sign a very short statement. Make copies for
yourself to keep in a safe place. Then deliver, mail, or fax
your statement to both the CPS worker and to the head of CPS.
There are a number
of form letters on the Internet for asserting your rights with
CPS. You can use those letters. Or your notification can be
as simple as the following:
To CPS worker Nancy
I am very concerned
about my own and my child's welfare. With that concern I am
choosing to assert my right to remain silent in this process.
I will not have any further conversations with you regarding
Mother of Gabriela Martinez
Know precisely what you are being officially accused of, and the
evidence being presented against you. Read all the paperwork CPS
or the juvenile court gives you. Pay special attention to the
Reading CPS and court
reports can be difficult at first because much of the language
in reports and court papers is unfamiliar. But don't give up.
Just keep reading. It doesn't take long to start catching on to
the lingo, particularly if you're willing to keep asking questions
along the way.
*** One of the very
first things you need to look for, circle, and underline in these
materials are the exact written words of the CPS accusations against
you. If you don't know the exact written words of the accusations
against you, it's virtually impossible to defend yourself. If
CPS is preparing to put you through a program, or take your child,
or hold your child, the CPS report will have a summary list at
some place in the report that tells the judge - in writing - why
the CPS worker believes it necessary to take the action against
you. This list is the list of accusations against you. Find it!
One of the first things
we ask women when they come to us with a CPS problem is, "What
are the CPS accusations against you?" So many women say they
don't know, or they repeat something the social worker has said.
But it does not matter what the social worker says. What the social
worker says to you is not official, and it can change from one
day to the next. What counts, what matters, what you need to know,
is what the social worker (and evaluators, mediators, etc.) put
into writing in their reports.
So always read what's
in the reports if you want to know the real deal of what your
up against. Knowing exactly what you're being officially accused
of is the absolute essential first step to preparing a good defense.
*** Another thing
to look for (and circle and underline) as you read the CPS report
or court documents are any untrue written statements that are
made, particularly untrue statements that reflect badly on you.
It will be very helpful to you if you make a list on a separate
sheet of paper of all the untrue or misconstrued evidence and
statements that are being made against you. That list can guide
your thinking as you develop a corresponding list of points and
evidence to defend yourself.
NOTE 1: You
have a right to see and get copies of ANY and ALL reports pertaining
to your child's case. This includes all court documents. If you
are not automatically given copies of these documents as they're
generated, ask your social worker to get you a copy within 24
hours. If this doesn't get a copy in your hands, immediately write
a one page letter to the head of social services and to the judge
on your case. Your up-to-date knowledge of what's in these reports
is just too vital to your future to allow them any leeway in providing
you with your reports.
NOTE 2: Don't
wait until the day before the next hearing or meeting before you
start reading the documents. Read everything as soon after you
get it as possible.
NOTE 3: There's
no doubt that reading these documents can be very depressing and
dehumanizing because of the strange and often distorted way that
CPS workers write about your family. Unfortunately, the unpleasantness
of reading these documents is one reason many women put off reading
them until it's too late to effectively respond. But you just
can't afford to let these documents go unread. So try asking a
friend or supportive family member to sit down at your side and
read the documents with you. Not only can a friend help you get
through these documents emotionally, a good friend will often
notice important points in the documents that you can easily miss
because you're so emotionally upset.
* If you don't
speak and read English well, insist on getting materials in your
own language. Insist on it, as many times as is necessary.
It's extremely important. And if your CPS worker or any one else
in the system is speaking your language poorly, ask for a translator.
And ask again. If the worker doesn't get you an interpreter after
you've requested one, don't pretend you understand what's being
said. Just the opposite, you need to keep indicating you don't
understand what's being said. It's just so critical to you that
you understand everything that's being said and written about
your child's case.
If your worker fails
to provide you with proper language interpretation and written
translations, try to find someone who can write out your requests
and complaints. Your letter to the judge or to the head of CPS
can be as simple as what follows.
To the Juvenile Court Judge,
CPS is looking into
an allegation of abuse regarding my child. The social worker,
Ms. Seri, has given me a report and other documents pertaining
to the case. All these documents are in English.
I want very much
to read these documents and inform myself so I can best respond
in a helpful way. The problem is I don't speak or read English
Three weeks ago,
I asked the CPS worker to provide me with translated copies
of the report. I also asked her to use a competent interpreter
when discussing my child's case with me. But to date she has
not done so.
I am requesting that
you postpone all proceedings on this case until I am provided
with proper language translations and an interpreter.
Get a notebook. Carry it with you everywhere. Write down brief
notes on all your interactions, thoughts, and questions regarding
the CPS case. Your notebook can win your case!
Being involved with
CPS is a huge emotional strain in a system that is unfamiliar,
threatening, and bewildering. Getting and keeping a notebook may
seem like one more chore too many. But, the reality is this notebook
can save you tremendous time and anxiety. It can put you in control.
Your notebook can win your case. So get that notebook and carry
it with you at all times! Some of your best thoughts and strategies
on your case will come to you at the oddest moments.
And use it:
* Take notes at all
meetings, hearings, and phone conversations.
* Write down names,
questions, reminders, and thoughts on evidence.
* Carefully outline
what you want to say, what you want to ask, and what you want
to accomplish, before you go into meetings or court hearings.
Take time in meetings to refer to your notes.
* Don't forget to date
Also, get a big, secure
folder where you can keep all your papers together in one place.
Consider making a report to police, even if CPS is already handling
the case. Pursue the criminal case to the maximum extent possible.
This advice may seem
a little off track. After all, you've already got more than you
can handle with the CPS case. So why consider opening up another
case with police?
But making a report
to police, either of the child abuse or of domestic violence against
you, or both, may be more help to you in your CPS case than anything
else you can do. Our best advice is that you make a police report
on the perpetrator's abuse of the child, as well as a separate
police report on any of the violence or threats of violence the
perpetrator has committed against you. A strong criminal case
against the abuser can often protect you against CPS in a number
* The existence of
a criminal case against the perpetrator usually forces CPS to
work in coordination with the criminal justice team. Since the
criminal justice system only goes after the abuser and never goes
after the non-offending parent, CPS is often forced to work more
in that vein, too, and tends to move away from treating you, the
non-offending parent, as a bad parent.
* Police and prosecutors
(the criminal justice team) usually aim to protect the child from
contact with the perpetrator. This often puts a damper on any
attempts by CPS to mandate mediations, family conferencing, and
family reunification with the perpetrator. And, of course, if
the abuser is incarcerated by the criminal system, that further
curtails CPS attempts to reunify the child with the perpetrator.
* Police and prosecutors
will be much more rigorous than CPS in developing evidence against
the abuser. Moreover, the evidence developed by police will be
tightly focused on the abusive acts. By highlighting the perpetrator's
violent criminal behavior, the evidence developed by police exposes
the risky and threatening situation you were in as the child's
mother, and the limited options you had for dealing with the situation.
As such, the evidence developed by police can often be your best
evidence for defending yourself from CPS accusations.
* The criminal justice
system packs more weight and power than CPS. So the criminal justice
usually calls the shots at critical junctures in the handling
of the case.
The existence of a
criminal case against the perpetrator doesn't guarantee that CPS
will stop targeting you, the non-offending parent. But at the
very least, it usually does tend to shift the overall blame more
onto the perpetrator where it should be. And in many cases the
existence of a criminal case may shift things enough to keep the
CPS/juvenile court system from taking your child from you.
NOTE: You may have to push a little to get police to take
the report, particularly if CPS is already involved in the case.
But if a family member has been violent with you or your child,
police cannot refuse to take a report. And if you run into an
officer who does refuse to take a report, go immediately over
that officer's head to the sergeant or to the head of the department's
family violence unit.
If you still have trouble
getting police to take your case seriously, there are a number
of resources in our Online
Handbook Advocating for Women in the Criminal Justice System
Know the purpose of and prepare ahead of time for all meetings
with CPS workers, mediators, evaluators. Read and reread everything
that your CPS worker has given you.
Most of the time when
mothers call us frantic about their CPS case, they are often unable
to explain the status of the legal proceedings. And they often
don't know the purpose of the next meeting or court hearing. This
is not their fault. The CPS system is complex. And most CPS workers
do not consider it their job to keep you informed. Unfortunately,
aside from an attorney who may be assigned to your case when you
go to court, there is no one in the CPS/juvenile court system
who's job it is to act as your advocate. And, as will be discussed
in more detail later, even if you have been assigned an attorney
by the juvenile court, these attorneys are notorious for ignoring
their clients needs.
It isn't fair and it
isn't just. But you have to take on the responsibility of keeping
yourself informed as to exactly what's happening in your case.
You need to know the
purpose of each meeting, evaluation, and each court hearing before
you attend. What is the issue that's going to be decided? What
is the CPS position on this issue? Do I need to defend myself
against the CPS position? How do I need to defend myself? You
can't prepare effectively without having that information.
Once you get in the
habit of keeping yourself informed about the step-by-step status
of your child's case, much of your anxiety and panic will be alleviated.
Never go alone to meet with CPS, to go to Juvenile Court, or to
meet with your attorney.
Having a smart, kind
friend at your side makes you strong in so many ways. It lets
the authorities know someone else is watching and cares about
you. A friend at your side protects you from feeling intimidated,
reminds you of questions you wanted to ask, helps you remember
things that were said. Having a friend at your side discourages
officials from mistreating you. Makes you feel stronger. Gives
you someone to share the experience with before, during, and after.
Makes you feel not so all alone.
So always try to have
a friend at your side at all your encounters with the CPS/juvenile
court system. Don't wait until the last minute to make arrangements.
Once you've found someone who will accompany you, inform your
friend about the purpose of the meeting or hearing. Ask your friend
if she or he would be willing to read some of the relevant documents.
Talk with your friend about what role you would like her to play
in meetings and hearings. Try to meet with your friend and go
to the meeting or hearing together, rather than meeting up at
the location. Treat your friend like gold. Say 'thank you' again
Put it in writing! Put it in writing! Put it in writing! Don't
let your words get misrepresented, twisted, or denied. To the
greatest extent possible, communicate with the CPS/juvenile court
system in writing. In addition, tape record conversations whenever
One of the most exasperating
thing women experience going through the CPS system is having
their words misrepresented, twisted, or denied. So to the greatest
extent possible, communicate with CPS in writing.
For tips on putting
together short, quick, effective written communication go to How
To Write an Effective Letter to Make the System Work.
When dealing with the
* Write short notes
summarizing your understanding of conversations you've had from
CPS. Notes such as the example that follows make it virtually
impossible for the CPS worker to later deny they said. Because,
if there was a misunderstanding, the worker should have cleared
it up immediately after receiving the note. Regularly following
up on phone calls and meetings with such notes also establishes
a recorded time line of events. And, perhaps, most important of
all, these notes serve to put the CPS system on notice that there's
no room for slippery slights of hand when dealing with you. All
this, while at the same time, these notes convey a professional,
cooperative tone. So write a lot of notes. And don't forget to
Dear Ms. Janson,
I'm sending this note just to let you know what I understood
from our phone conversation of June 2, 2007. I understood that
you have given me permission to pick my child up from the group
home and take my child to the pediatrician of my choice to remedy
the rash on my child's back. Thank you,
* Always voice any
complaints you may have in a one page letter that follows the
format outlined on this page How
To Write an Effective Letter to Make the System Work. Even
though these complaint letters take a little more time to put
together, this form is highly effective in obtaining quick remedy
to your complaint.
* Always put your
requests in writing. These written requests can be as simple as
the note above for simple requests, or may call for a longer one
page letter as suggested for the complaints.
* Similar to your
requests, it's always best to put your conditions and assertions
of your rights into letter form.
And once more for quality
control: Always keep copies, and keep all your copies in a safe
Follow all court orders to the letter. Many court orders given
you in a CPS case will seem completely unjust. Many of these orders
are, in fact, unjust, and, worse, many are often contrary to the
well being and safety of you and your child. But you must follow
these orders to the letter, even as you fight to do everything
you can to get these orders changed.
There's nothing that
upsets the court more than someone who breaks a court order. Even
child abuse doesn't seem to upset officials as much as what they
view as contempt for their court orders. So read and know what's
written in the court order and obey it to the letter. The last
thing you want is for the system to retaliate against you and
take your child just because you failed to comply with a court
order to attend this or that program. So keep in mind that it
can happen just as easily as that. And obey all court orders to
Another all too common
occurrence you should watch out for is this. A CPS worker may
tell you verbally that you don't have to do this or that part
of what's written in the service plan which has been approved
by the judge. Whatever you do, do not take the social worker at
his or her word. Before you even think of changing any aspect
of your compliance with the court orders or written service plans,
insist that the social worker put any and all changes in writing!
And that the social worker sign and date the statement. And that
you have at least one copy of that signed statement in your hands.
If the social worker fails to put the change in writing, continue
to comply with the order and service plan as it is written.
And if a social worker,
or any other member of the CPS system, tells you to do one thing
that's different from what's in the written order, you should
write up a dated, signed note of your own. Address it to the judge
or the head of social services. Explain briefly that your social
worker told you to do x, but that you know you are obligated to
follow the written order until such time as that order is changed
Remember, what's written
in black and white is what counts. It's worth repeating. Don't
get fooled or misled by something a social worker says verbally
one day, and then forgets they ever said it the next. Don't let
abusers, evaluators, mediators, or anyone else influence you verbally
into going against what's written in black and white. Even something
as seemingly minor as altering a visitation schedule can and likely
will be held against you in court. Get it in writing! Get it in
writing! Get it in writing!
Obey all written court
orders as they are written!
Keep being your child's mother. If CPS has detained your child,
remember, you are still your child's mother, and your child needs
your mothering more than ever. Don't violate any court orders.
But within the constraints of those court orders, do all that
you can to keep being your child's mother. Be creative! Give thought
ahead of time how to make the most of phone calls and visitations.
Tips for getting the best possible representation from your
court appointed attorney.
If you've been appointed
an attorney by the juvenile court, don't trust that your attorney
will properly prepare and present your case.
Many, many, many mothers
wrongly lose their children to CPS, and the children wrongly lose
their mothers, simply because the attorneys assigned to represent
the non-offending parents often do little or nothing on behalf
of their clients.
No one in any situation
can sit back and trust that their attorney will effectively fight
for their case. You have to partner with your attorney. You need
to understand your case, participate in preparing your case, and
most important of all, you have to watchdog your attorney.
But when you are the
non-offending parent who has been assigned an attorney by the
juvenile court in the CPS case, you need to multiply this advice
by a factor of a thousand. As a rule, attorneys assigned to represent
you in a CPS case are attorneys at their worst. They frequently
fail to prepare, fail to fight back, fail to return phone calls,
fail to meet with their clients, and often fail to know even the
basic facts of the case. As a result, these attorneys frequently
end up abandoning their clients to the most blatant abuses of
CPS/juvenile court system.
Don't let this happen
to you. In order to effectively deal with an attorney assigned
to represent you in a CPS/juvenile court case, it's helpful to
first understand why the CPS/juvenile court system brings out
the worst in so many attorneys.
- These attorneys
usually have a very high volume caseload of clients who are
in intense emotional pain and stress. Any discussion the attorney
attempts to have with the clients is usually laced with the
mother's agony and desperation. With scores of these desperation
cases to handle every day, many attorneys unfortunately take
the easy route and shut the clients out. Many don't return phone
calls, don't meet with you to prepare the case, and often don't
even meet with their clients before critical court hearings.
This naturally increases the clients' desperation, which increases
the attorney's effort to barricade against communicating with
the clients, which leads to very bad lawyering for the mothers
who need it most.
- The attorneys assigned
to these cases know that their clients are among the most powerless
and voiceless in society; poor women who are caught in the most
dire circumstances. Right from the start, most of these attorneys
can't even begin to imagine the kinds of circumstances their
clients are going through. Nor are they likely to dig into the
situation sufficiently (if at all) to unravel the complexities
in search of the truth. Furthermore, these attorneys know their
clients do not have the resources, (neither the time, money,
nor standing) to mount a case of lawyer misconduct, no matter
how bad a job the lawyers do.
- Family and juvenile
law have very low status in the legal profession. Many attorneys
assigned to cases like yours are not really there as a first
choice. They're being rotated through the job. Or they took
the job as a holding station while they look for better positions
elsewhere. Or they simply need the easy money of a court assignment.
Furthermore, they know that given the vague and flimsy legal
standards of family and juvenile law, it's difficult to construct
an effective defense against whatever claims or accusations
CPS puts forth. So, they figure, why put up a fight?
- The whole CPS/juvenile
court system operates in secret. No one is watching. Nothing
is on the public record. Add to this the absence of rigorous
standards and the attorneys know that no one in the system,
including themselves, is likely to be held accountable for legal
- Most of these attorneys
are given their assignments at the pleasure of the court. The
attorneys know that if they smoothly go along with CPS and court
rulings without raising a fuss, the court will continue to assign
them cases. On the other hand, if they regularly battle with
CPS and take up court time fighting and objecting on behalf
of their clients' rights, they know the chances are slim that
the court will keep them around.
When you look at all
these factors in sum, you can easily see why the attorney you're
assigned in the juvenile court system is so prone to doing a lousy
job representing your interests. Fortunately, there are some things
you can do that may perk up your attorney to a better level of
performance on your behalf.
to increase the chances your attorney will fight your case effectively:
* Know what attorneys
like. Most attorneys like to go into court armed with solid
evidence. They like to look good in court, to win smartly, and
to do all of the foregoing with the minimal of effort. Even better,
they like to do so with no effort at all. What this means for
you is that if you can arm your attorney with solid evidence that
smartly answers the CPS case against you, and if you can do so
by making the most minimal demand on the attorney's time, you
stand a good chance of getting your attorney to bat hard for you
* Be informed and be prepared. Know the written accusations
against you. Know the exact purpose of the upcoming court hearing
(i.e. what question is the upcoming hearing meant to resolve.)
Then prepare yourself before you meet or communicate with your
attorney, including before any phone conversations with your attorney.
Make a brief set of notes to yourself on the main questions you
want to ask, and the main points you want to communicate. Try
to put these points in as condensed a form as possible so you
can refer to them and read them at a glance.
* In all your communications
with your attorney, stick to the legal issue(s) at hand. This
can be very difficult given the heart wrenching emotions of your
situation. And it can be near unbearable to realize that your
attorney isn't out there trying to move heaven and earth to make
sure you don't lose your child to CPS. But it's very unlikely
your attorney is going to be moved by your pain. If you vent your
pain onto your attorney, it's much more likely you'll drive the
attorney away rather than serving to draw the attorney into your
Keep reminding yourself
that the best way to keep CPS from taking your child is to get
your attorney to fight effectively for you in court, and the best
way to get your attorney to fight effectively for you is to stick
to the legal issue at hand.
One way to help yourself
do this is to imagine that you'll only have five minutes with
your attorney. Then in the days leading up to your appointment
with your attorney, ask yourself, what are the most important
questions and points I need to communicate in those five minutes.
This should help you get very focused and clear about what you
want to say and ask. As mentioned above, write these points down
in a brief set of notes to yourself. Have these notes in your
hand for easy reference at a glance when you meet or talk with
* Prepare a one page written brief for your attorney. This
one page brief should be a tight summary, ~ a point by point list
~, of the main points of information, evidence, and witnesses
your attorney needs in order to successfully fight the upcoming
legal issue at hand. In other words, in your thinking and preparation,
you be the lawyer arguing your case.
The end product you
give your attorney should all fit on one, or maximum two, page(s)
. Remember, these attorneys are buried in these cases. They will
read one sheet of paper. They will appreciate one sheet of paper.
But if you hand your attorney a fist full of papers, it's likely
the attorney won't even read the first page. If there are supporting
documents you think your attorney should have, briefly describe
the documents you have on your one page brief. Indicate that you've
attached a copy, or that you'll produce the documents when needed.
If you have additional
information you could not fit on the one page, say exactly that
as your last point on the page. For example, write something like,
"In addition to the above, I have two additional witnesses
who can attest to the bruises on my child from a year ago. I have
a copy of my temporary restraining order petition from that time
(in which I noted the threats of violence against me). Also, I
can obtain a letter from the counselor I was seeing at that time
who can attest to my fears for myself and my child."
Write your information
out in points (the same as this text), with the most important
points at the top. Don't forget to put your name, your phone number(s),
the case number, and the date - and your attorney's name - all
clearly at the top of the page.
* Ask your attorney
directly what he or she is going to argue and ask for in court.
Don't be shy about this. It is completely appropriate to the attorney/client
relationship for you to be very specific in asking your attorney
how and what they are going to argue on your behalf in court.
It is also completely appropriate, in fact it is the core of the
attorney/client relationship, that you tell your attorney in detail,
how you want your attorney to represent you.
So speak up. Ask: "What
evidence are you going to present in defense of the CPS accusation
that I should have known my husband was abusing his stepdaughter?"
"Are you going to present the letter from the counselor?"
"Are you going to present the police reports of domestic
violence from a year ago?" "Are you going to present
the statement from my daughter's friend?"
"What are you
going to do if the judge will not return custody to me?"
"I want you to ask for increased visitation." "I
want you to argue forcefully against CPS telling me to CO-counsel
with my husband." "I want you to argue against this
based on the history of domestic violence." etc.
Take notes on your
attorney's answers and responses to these questions. It may be
that some of your requests are not legally viable for a particular
hearing. But your attorney should give you full, accurate, and
reasonable explanations if that's the case. But bottom line, your
attorney's job is to represent your interests court.
* Always have extra
copies of the brief for your attorney, and a set of notes for
yourself, when you go to court. The sad fact is that even
if you've given a copy of this one sheet briefing to your attorney
a week before the hearing, there's still a real chance the attorney
will not have read it. So bring copies to court. Once at the courthouse,
you can be pretty certain that your attorney will read it, or
reread it, as he or she sits there in the courtroom or out in
the hallway as they wait for the case to be called.
Waiting for a case
to be called at court is often a very good time to catch your
attorney's attention to exchange last minute thoughts anyway because
they're pinned in place with nothing particular to do. But before
you tap your attorney on the shoulder, as always, take a minute
to jot down your points and questions.
The reason it's so
important that you have a set of notes for yourself when you go
to court is because it's so easy to forget even the most important
points when you're nervous and upset. The courtroom atmosphere
can be very intimidating, chaotic, and confusing. So bring your
written notes to yourself. Bring a copy of your notes to your
* Remember: Bring
a smart, supportive friend with you to meetings with the attorney
and to court hearings. And bring your notebook, too, so you can
write down new points and questions that occur to you during the
* If, despite all
of the above, your attorney fails you in court, does not present
the evidence on your side, misrepresents your side, doesn't object
to lies and false accusations against you, etc., you have every
right to speak up for yourself, either immediately or later. But
it's best to speak up immediately!
In court, once your
case is called, you will be seated right next to your attorney.
The reason you're seated next to your attorney is because in order
for you to have proper representation in court you must be able
to communicate with your attorney as events unfold in court.
Do not hesitate to
talk to your attorney during your court hearing! Do not hesitate
to talk to your attorney even if it means the whole court has
to stop and wait while you confer with your attorney. Do not feel
pressured out of exercising this critical right to stop everything
while you talk with your attorney, even if all you need to do
is to ask your attorney the meaning of one action or another.
But if you see that
your attorney is failing to present evidence he or she said they
would present, or failing to accurately represent your position,
it is absolutely essential that you turn to your attorney and
say, "I need to confer with you for a minute." When
you do that, your attorney should then turn to the judge and say,
"Your Honor, I would like to take a moment to confer with
my client." This is nothing unusual. It happens all the time
in court that proceedings are stopped so attorneys and clients
can take a minute or two to confer. So don't be shy or embarrassed
at all about turning to communicate with your attorney as many
times as you feel you need to throughout the court hearing on
your case. Remember, you are fighting to save your relationship
with your child. And you have a right to proper, accurate, and
complete legal representation.
If your attorney does
not respond to you, if your attorney just rolls over your request
and acts like he or she doesn't hear you, you, yourself, have
a right to speak up directly to the judge. It can be very hard
to do this in open court, but do it. "Your honor, I need
a minute to confer with my attorney." This will work. The
judge will stop everything and give you time to talk with your
attorney, and more than likely, the judge will also give your
attorney a dirty look. A look like, 'why on earth did your client
have to go through me to get to you?'
* Yes, you have
the right to fire your attorney, even if your attorney is court
appointed. If it is clear to you that your attorney is not
prepared or not willing to properly represent your side of the
case, you have a right to fire your attorney. Naturally, you should
be sure this is what you need to do before you do it, since it
will postpone court hearings and require that you be assigned
a new attorney.
However, if your attorney
has refused to meet with you, or if your attorney has not prepared,
or is hostile to your case, or for any other reason, you feel
your attorney is going to fail you in court, firing your attorney
may be the best thing you can do to protect your rights.
If you're going to
fire your attorney, it's a good idea to write a brief one paragraph
statement to your attorney telling the attorney that he or she
is fired. Fax this to your attorney, and bring a copy of the letter
with you to court. When you go into court, be prepared to speak
up to the judge when your case is called, and to give a copy of
the letter to the judge. Don't feel embarrassed or shy about doing
this either. This is not unusual. Many clients fire their attorneys.
Many court hearings of all kinds are put over to another date
so that clients have time to find a new attorney or to be assigned
a new attorney. Many attorneys have lived through the experience
of being fired. They know how to save face in these situations.
Your attorney will not have a heart attack when you announce it
in open court. And the judge won't be shocked either. They've
all been through it before.
So speak up and exercise
your rights. You deserve proper legal representation, especially
when it comes to saving your relationship with your child.