Abuse and Neglect

Michigan law allows anyone who suspects the abuse or neglect of a child to report their concerns to a state agency known as Children’s Protective Services (CPS). Certain people are required to report any suspected abuse or neglect. CPS investigates all reasonable reports, and it has the authority under state law to ask a judge for permission to remove a child from their home if it believes the child is in danger. The official goal of these cases is to keep families together, but only as long as CPS thinks that this would be in a child’s best interest. Throughout this process, parents have legal rights, and they are entitled to have their own representative present to advocate for them. If you have been contacted by CPS about a report of alleged abuse or neglect, you should consult with a Michigan attorney who has experience representing parents in CPS cases.

How Does Michigan Define Abuse and Neglect?

State law defines the abuse or neglect of a child as any act, or failure to act, that places a child’s health and safety at serious risk. On its website, CPS offers examples of “potential indicators” of abuse and neglect. These include both physical signs and behaviors.

Possible signs of abuse, according to CPS, include:

  • Unexplained fractures, sprains, bruises, burns, or other wounds;
  • Self-harming behaviors;
  • Avoidance of physical contact with others;
  • Noticeable soreness;
  • Overly aggressive behavior;
  • Overly withdrawn behavior; and
  • Unwillingness to leave school at the end of the day.

Injuries and various behaviors can have innocent explanations. Children who participate in sports or other physical activities, such as skateboarding, may be prone to injury. Difficult or stressful events in a child’s life can lead to all kinds of behavioral problems. These can still lead to CPS investigations.

Even if injuries or behavioral issues are not the result of abuse, CPS may still investigate for possible neglect. Injuries that do not receive medical attention, for example, could lead to such suspicions. The CPS list of possible signs of neglect includes:

  • Fatigue;
  • Indicators of hunger, including emaciation or a distended belly;
  • Hoarding food;
  • Lack of adult supervision;
  • Inadequate clothing or hygiene;
  • Major changes in weight, especially weight loss; and
  • Medical concerns that go unaddressed, including injuries.

What Happens During a CPS Case?

A CPS case can be a long process. It begins with a report of suspected abuse, followed by an investigation. If CPS files a petition to remove the child, the case can result in anything from reunification of the family to termination of parental rights. At all times during this process, parents have the right to legal representation and to have their claims heard.

It is important to note that a CPS case is not criminal in nature. Its purpose, according to Michigan law, is to protect children from abuse and neglect, not to determine whether someone is guilty of a crime. The focus is on the child’s best interests, not on whether That said, CPS can refer matters to law enforcement if it suspects that a crime has occurred. That would be a separate proceeding, though, in a criminal court.

Report and Investigation

Any person suspecting abuse or neglect can make a report, also known as a complaint, to CPS. “Mandatory reporters,” such as doctors, teachers, and social workers, must report any suspected abuse or neglect. Most reports remain anonymous, meaning that CPS will not disclose the identity of the reporter.

A CPS investigator usually begins by contacting the person who is the subject of the report, whether it is a parent or someone else, both to notify them and to try to talk to them. The investigator typically wants to talk to the parents and the child, along with other members of the household.

Court Proceedings

If CPS concludes that there is enough evidence of abuse or neglect to justify removing a child from the home, it will file a petition in a Michigan court. The petition must state why CPS believes a child is experiencing abuse or neglect. The court will hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether to authorize the child’s removal from the home. If the court grants the petition, the child will be placed with a family member, or with a licensed foster family.

CPS will instruct the parents to complete various services, depending on the circumstances of each case. If CPS suspects drug abuse, for example, CPS might direct a parent to attend counseling for substance abuse. If the allegations involve abuse, the services might include anger management.

The court will conduct periodic hearings to review how everyone is doing, and whether or not the case is moving towards reunification. If CPS does not support reuniting the family, the court will hold a trial on whether to terminate parental rights.

What Are a Parent’s Rights in a CPS Case?

Parents have several very important rights during CPS investigations and legal proceedings.

The Right Not to Answer Questions

A parent who has been contacted by a CPS investigator does not have to speak to them right away. Even if they know they did not commit any abuse or neglect, talking to CPS without a lawyer present can make things worse than they need to be. A CPS investigator who already believes a parent is guilty is unlikely to give them any benefit of the doubt. Much like questioning by police, a parent can misspeak in a way that can be twisted into an admission of something.

The Right to Information About the Alleged Abuse or Neglect

Parents have the right to receive detailed information about any allegations against them. This should include a description of what allegedly happened, along with when and where it allegedly happened.

The Right to See a Warrant Before Letting CPS Into Your Home

You have the right under the 4th Amendment to be free from warrantless searches of your home or property. A CPS caseworker is not supposed to enter your home without either your permission or an order signed by a judge.

The Right to Representation by an Attorney

CPS cannot require you to answer questions or do anything else without allowing you to speak to an attorney. You have the right to find a lawyer who will fight for you, and not simply advise you to do what CPS says.

What Is the Central Registry?

Michigan’s Central Registry contains names of certain people accused of the abuse or neglect of a child. State law says that a person can only be added to the Registry when there is sufficient evidence against them. This does not always require an actual conviction or other finding by a court of law. This raises many concerns about due process of law. It may be possible for someone to get their name removed from the Registry in a process known as expungement.

Tracie L McCarn-Dinehart is a Michigan family law attorney who practices with North Pointe Legal in Ludington. She represents clients throughout Michigan, particularly in Mason, Manistee, Benzie, Oceana, and Lake Counties. If you are facing charges of alleged abuse or neglect in a Michigan court, please contact us today online or at (231) 480-1491 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and learn more about your rights and options.