After Child Protective Services, “CPS” or the “department”, has finished their investigation into an allegation of abuse or neglect, the investigation will be done and the department will make a ruling. That ruling is called a disposition and can result in the following scenarios: 1) the case is closed altogether, 2) the department makes a request for the referral of services, 3) the department makes a request for the family to sign a safety plan, or 4) CPS determines that there is a threat to the safety of the child(ren) to the point that immediate removal of the child from the home is necessary and will request a legal case be opened to remove the child(ren).
When the department offers services, or a safety plan, know that this request is voluntary. That means you can choose whether or not to sign the plan or do the requested services. However, should you not be in agreement, not contact the investigator back, or act in any way that indicates you do not wish to comply with the department’s request, and if the department believes the child is still at risk for abuse or neglect, it is likely that the department will file documents with the court to start a legal case and ask a Judge to intervene.
If the department believes opening a legal case is necessary, then the department will file a lawsuit asking a judge to remove the children from your care and appoint the department as Managing Conservator of the child(ren). In this situation the department is asking to be in charge of the welfare of your child(ren) and have the legal right to make all decisions regarding medical treatment, school, and where the child(ren) will live. If this request is granted the child(ren) will be legally removed from you, the department will act on behalf of the children, and you will be required to work services to get the child(ren) back into your home. The biggest difference between a safety plan and a legal case is that in a legal case you are facing the termination of your parental rights if you do not complete your services, meaning you face all of your rights being taking away, including the ability to see your children.
It is always important to ask questions if you do not understand what a term means or what is being asked of you. Often the department will put pressure on a family to act immediately. However, if you are uncertain about how you should proceed, if you don’t feel comfortable, or if you have more questions that were not answered by the department, you always have the right to speak to an attorney.