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Back to Beware Child Protective Services Index

Part 2: Tips for Avoiding the Abuses of Child Protective Services for non-offending parents, advocates, and mandated reporters


A. 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.

    Furthermore, 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