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Child Protective Services (CPS) is the name of a governmental agency in many states of the United States that responds to reports of child abuse or neglect. Some states use other names, often attempting to reflect more family-centered (as opposed to child-centered) practices, such as "Department of Children & Family Services" (DCFS). CPS is also known by the name of "Department of Social Services" (DSS) or simply "Social Services." Technically, CPS is usually a unit within a state's or county's DSS with the latter also including programs for assistance with Medicaid, Food Stamps, child support, public housing, Adult Protective Services, and foster care and adoptions.

Laws and standards


U.S. federal laws that govern CPS agencies include:

  • Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
  • Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
  • Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA)
  • Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)

State and local

Definitions: Each state must also have statutes that provide more detailed definitions of what child maltreatment means, for instance, defining terms such as:

  1. abuse, which might include:
    • physical abuse
    • sexual abuse
    • emotional abuse (not recognized by all states)
  2. neglect, which might include:
    • lack of supervision
    • failure to provide necessary medical or remedial care
    • inappropriate discipline
    • exposure to domestic violence
    • exposure to parental substance abuse
  3. alleged perpetrator, which might include:
    • parents
    • other relatives
    • other in-home adults
    • guardians, custodians, caregiver/caretaker
    • daycare staff (not all states)
    • residential treatment (e.g., group home) staff (not all states)

Activities: States must articulate how a CPS agency is to respond to alleged maltreatment including:

  • timeframes for responding to different levels of child maltreatment
  • manner in which reporters are provided follow-up information (e.g., case disposition letters)
  • confidentiality restrictions (e.g., which may differ during the investigative and case-management phases)
  • conflict-of-interest cases (e.g., a CPS agency would not investigate a report against their own staff)

Additionally, state and local CPS-related institutions will develop policies and practices that further shape communities' response to child maltreatment. Examples include:

  • Coordinating efforts between CPS, law enforcement, schools, mental health and other institutions.
  • Providing further standards for defining maltreatment, such as how does one define "inappropriate discipline."
  • Maintaining records and/or centralized databases regarding reports and families.
  • Appeal processes, if any.
  • CPS-related court processes.


In 1655, in what is now the United States, there were criminal court cases involving child abuse.[1] In 1692, states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions.[2] In 1696, England first used the legal principle of parens patriae, which gave the royal crown care of "charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery." This principal of parens patriae has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families' child rearing practices.[3]

In 1825, states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in almshouses, in orphanages and with other families. In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. In the late-1800s, private child protection agencies – modeled after existing animal protection organizations – developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court and advocate for child welfare legislation.[4]

In 1912, the federal Children's Bureau was established to manage federal child welfare efforts, including services related to child maltreatment. In 1958, amendments to the Social Security Act mandated that states fund child protection efforts.[5] In 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by the publication of C. Henry Kempe and associates' "The battered child syndrome" in JAMA. By the mid-1960s, in response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws.[6] In 1974, these efforts by the states culminated in the passage of the federal "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act" (P.L. 93-247) providing federal funding for wide-ranging federal and state child-maltreatment research and services.[7]


Despite the benefits of the services of the CPS, in the last two decades, the CPS has come under intense private and public scrutinity. A recent analysis of child welfare practice and mandated reporting laws (Drake & Jonson-Reid, 2007) found that child welfare agencies are generally viewed positively, both by the general public and by other social service providers, such as psychologists.

Brenda Scott, in her study of CPS concluded, "Child Protective Services is out of control. The system, as it operates today, should be scrapped. If children are to be protected in their homes and in the system, radical new guidelines must be adopted. At the core of the problem is the antifamily mindset of CPS. Removal is the first resort, not the last. With insufficient checks and balances, the system that was designed to protect children has become the greatest perpetrator of harm."[8] Further to that information, several former CPS workers retired from the service, due to increasing circumstances and practices carried out by the organization.

Professor Ted Melhuish in his research of December 7, 2006 presents the case for additional government intervention in terms of "Rates of Return to Human Capital investment." Citing a 1993 study of 123 young African-American children he finds early intervention ultimately contributes to greater tax revenue and also identifies possible cost savings in the areas justice, mental health and welfare. The study concludes that every dollar invested in Child Protective Services produces a return of $7.16 Why Early Intervention?

Texas 2008 Raid of YFZ Ranch

Main article: YFZ Ranch

In April 2008, many raised questions as the CPS in Texas removed every minor child and infant from the YFZ Ranch polygamist community, with the assistance of heavily armed police with an armored personnel carrier. They convinced a judge that they had sufficient evidence to conclude that all of the children were at risk of suffering from child abuse as they were being groomed for under-age marriage.

Gene Grounds of Victim Relief Ministries reported no hysteria or crying children from children removed from the ranch. He commended CPS workers as exhibiting compassion, professionalism and caring concern.[9] However, CPS performance was questioned by workers from the Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center. One wrote "I have never seen women and children treated this poorly, not to mention their civil rights being disregarded in this manner" after assisting at the emergency shelter. Others who were previously forbidden to discuss conditions working with CPS later produced unsigned written reports expressed anger at the CPS traumatizing the children, and disregarding rights of mothers who appeared to be good parents of healthy, well-behaved children. CPS threatened some MHMR workers with arrest, and the entire mental health support was dismissed the second week due to being "too compassionate." Workers believed poor sanitary conditions at the shelter allowed respiratory infections and chicken pox to spread.[10]

CPS problems reported

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had itself been an object of reports of unusual numbers of poisonings, death, rapes and pregnancies of children under its care since 2004. The Texas Family and Protective Services Crisis Management Team was created by executive order after the critical report Forgotten Children of 2004. Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn made a statement in 2006 about the Texas foster care system.[11]

Responsibility for misconduct

In May 2007, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found in ROGERS v. COUNTY OF SAN JOAQUIN, No. 05-16071 that a CPS social worker acting without due process and without exigency (emergency conditions) violated the 14th Amendment and Title 42 United State Code Section 1983. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that a state may not make a law that abridges "abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States" and no state may "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Title 42 United States Code Section 1983 states that citizens can sue a person that deprives them of their rights under the pretext of a regulation of a state.

See also


  1. Pecora et al. (1992), p. 231.
  2. Ibid., pp. 230-1.
  3. Ibid., p. 230.
  4. Pecora et al. (1992), pp. 230-31; Petr (1998), p. 126.
  5. Laird & Michael (2006).
  6. Pecora et al. (1992), p. 232; Petr (1998), p. 126.
  7. Pecora et al. (1992), pp. 232-3; Petr (1998), pp. 126-7.
  8. Scott, Brenda (1994) Out of Control. Who's Watching Our Child Protection Agencies? p. 179
  9. Richardson group: Polygamists' children are OK April 18, 2008 BY JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA-TV
  10. .includeonly>Crotea, Roger. "Mental health workers rip CPS over sect", 'San Antonio Express-news ', 10 May 2008.
  11. Comptroller Strayhorn Statement On Foster Care Abuse June 23, 2006


  • Drake, B. & Jonson-Reid, M. (2007). A response to Melton based on the Best Available Data. Published in: Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 31, Issue 4, April 2007, Pages 343-360.
  • Laird, David and Jennifer Michael (2006). "Budgeting Child Welfare: How will millions cut from the federal budget affect the child welfare system?" Published in: Child Welfare League of America, Children's Voice, Vol. 15, No. 4 (July/August 2006). Available on-line at:
  • Pecora, Peter J., James K. Whittaker, Anthony N. Maluccio, with Richard P. Barth and Robert D. Plotnick (1992). The Child Welfare Challenge: Policy, Practice, and Research. NY:Aldine de Gruyter. ISBN 0-202-36082-2.
  • Petr, Christopher G. (1998). Social Work with Children and their Families: Pragmatic Foundations. NY:Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510607-5.

External links

United States


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