If CPS believes a child has been abused or neglected or is at risk for harm, CPS can bring a petition in court to ask that the child be removed from the home. The petition can request that the child be removed for a short period of time or, in extreme cases, permanently. Once a Dependency Petition is filed, a parent has the obligation to follow court orders regarding the child’s living arrangements, visitation by the parent, and to complete treatment services ordered by the Judge. The Court will review the case every few months to determine whether the child can be safely returned to the home. The Court’s goal is to determine the best interest of the child and ensure that parents follow through with services as determined by the Court.
Michele has developed a strong dependency practice that focuses on reuniting families as quickly as possible and defending against baseless allegations of intentional abuse. Washington’s child welfare laws, generally referred to as Dependency Law, can have devastating consequences for families. A dependent child is any child under the age of eighteen who has been abandoned, abused, or neglected, or else has no parent, guardian or custodian capable of caring for them. All medical providers, therapists, counselors, teachers and others who work with children, are mandatory reporters. This means if they have a reasonable belief that child abuse has occurred they must report the suspected abuse either to child protective services or to Law Enforcement. Such a report can begin a chain of events that jeopardize your ability to have custody of and care for your children.
Once a report is made, if Child Protective Services (CPS) or Law Enforcement believes a child or children are in imminent danger they will take the child or children into protective custody and file a petition with the Family Court requesting a hearing to determine whether the child should remain in protective custody or return home. This initial hearing is referred to as a 72 hour or Shelter Care hearing because it must occur within 72 hours of a dependency petition being filed. The purpose of this hearing is to determine if the child can be safely returned home while the dependency is pending. If the court determines the child cannot be safely returned home it can order the child removed (if the child has not been removed already) and place the child in foster care or with a relative. In some cases, the child can remain at home during an “in-home” dependency.
Once a child is in the dependency system, Child Protective Services will assign a social worker to investigate the family background and make recommendations as to the needs of the child/children and family. CPS is mandated to offer services to the family to facilitate reuniting the family. The Court will review the case periodically until the child is returned to the parents, permanent placement is formalized, or parental rights are terminated (in extreme cases).
In a dependency, each party should be represented by an attorney. It is not unusual for parents to have different needs and each needs their own counsel to represent them during this process.
Mandatory Reporting Law
Washington’s Mandatory Reporting Law requires medical professionals, teachers, caregivers, counselors, therapists, and others to report suspicions of child abuse. Because reporting is mandatory and can result in a criminal charge for a mandatory reporter who fails to report child abuse, these reports can often be baseless or the result of false information.
Common Injuries that Trigger Child Abuse Reports
There are certain medical events or injuries that are almost certain to trigger a CPS investigation. Pediatricians have been trained to look for these types of injuries and are mandated to report if they believe the injury was the result of abuse or neglect. In any case where child abuse is alleged, it is important to engage an experienced attorney who can advise you on your rights and help you obtain an expert medical opinion. It is not uncommon for accidental injuries to be alleged to be child abuse and engaging an expert early is a critical part of defending against these allegations both in the Dependency and Criminal courts. Michele has extensive experience in this area and a strong network of experts to draw on.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
Shaken Baby Syndrome, or what is now referred to as “Abusive Head Trauma” is where medical professionals believe a child has been intentionally injured and suffered a head injury or injury to their brain as a result. This type of injury is most often identified with retinal hemorrhaging and/or a subdural hematoma. The research and current medical opinions on Shaken Baby Syndrome and it’s symptoms are highly controversial and currently under a great deal of debate.
It is not unusual for medical personnel to suspect child abuse when children appear in the hospital or emergency room with fractures. Fractures are a common childhood injury, however they are also considered a common sign of child abuse. In particular, fractures of the femur, multiple fractures, or fractures that were not treated immediately, or fractures in very young children (under eighteen months) raise concern. Additionally, if the parent or caregiver cannot offer an explanation as to how the fracture occurred, medical professionals are likely to become concerned and react by reporting the injury to CPS.
It may seem normal and unremarkable for children to have bruises, particularly young, active children. However, bruises can trigger suspicion amongst medical professionals, particularly when they appear with other injuries. Bruising in the areas of the legs and arms are two of the most likely places to cause alarm.
Munchausen Syndrome/Medical Abuse
Munchausen by Proxy, or Medical Child Abuse, occurs where a parent or caregiver fabricates symptoms in a child. The adult deliberately misleads others into believing a child is ill and may actually cause symptoms in the child through poisoning, medication, or other means. The cause of these actions is typically a need, on the part of the parent or caregiver, to gain attention or sympathy from medical professionals. Diagnosing Medical Child Abuse can be extremely difficult and controversial because the parent or caregiver appears to be caring for an ill child. There are many documented cases where a parent or caregiver has been accused of Medical Child Abuse when they were legitimately attempting to care for a sick child.