Child Protective Services (CPS) is a division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services whose goal is to protect the rights of children suffering from child abuse or neglect. According to state law, child abuse may be physical, as in kicking or punching, or may involve sexual exploitation. Neglect is defined as the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide the basic needs required to maintain the health, safety and welfare of a child.
When a call comes into CPS, the intake worker gathers as much information as possible. A caller may remain anonymous. However, if the situation is assessed as low risk and the caller does not provide a name and contact information, no case is opened. State law mandates that the name of the reporter be revealed for court testimony, by court order or in the case of criminal proceedings, such as false reporting. A case must be opened when an arrest for criminal maltreatment of a child is reported by law enforcement, a physician refers a case of a child under 5 and when bruises on a child under 12 months are reported, regardless of how the injuries were acquired.
During the intake call, the CPS worker asks the reporter questions regarding the identity and location of the child, family members who reside with the child, the child’s primary caretaker and details of the alleged abuse or neglect. The reporter should specify if the child is at risk for imminent serious harm, as in a situation that could result in death, or if the child has an injury that requires immediate medical attention. Names and contact information for others who might be able to corroborate the reported incidents should be provided at this time.
The intake worker decides to screen in or screen out the intake. If the intake is screened out, no case will be opened and no further action is taken by CPS. Any intake that is screened out and flagged as chronic will be reviewed by a supervisor, who determines if there is presence of cumulative harm to the child.
If the intake is screened in, an investigation follows. Emergent cases in which the child is at risk for imminent serious harm are forwarded to a field worker within one hour. If a crime against a child is reported, the worker also notifies law enforcement.
Within 24 hours of completing an intake classified as emergent, the case worker has a face-to-face interaction with the victim. The timeframe for a home visit in a non-emergent case is 72 hours. The case worker visits the child’s home to observe the child and his environment and to identify any additional victims, such as siblings. The parents or caregivers, as well as the perpetrator, are informed of the allegations. The child is interviewed and the interview is recorded, if possible. The child may opt to have a third party present as long as it doesn't interfere with the investigation. Photographs of visible injuries are taken.
Assessment and Safety Plan
After collecting information, the field worker assesses the level of threat and harm to the child, giving consideration to the child’s vulnerability and the protective capacity of the caregivers, including the ability to separate the child from the perpetrator. The worker creates a safety plan that addresses the child’s immediate safety, as well as the risk of recurring maltreatment. The safety plan may include removing the child from the home when there is evidence of serious injury or sexual abuse. The worker may mandate medical care and notifies law enforcement if the situation reveals a crime against a child.