If you have kids and are addicted to mind/mood-altering substances, legal or illegal, you may get a visit from Child Protective Services, or CPS. These visits can be disruptive, definitely unannounced, and downright worrying. And, because the impetus behind the visit is the welfare of a child or children, co-operation is mandatory. Knowing what to expect should they become involved may save you both time and unnecessary drama down the road. While not all investigations are the same, and every state will have its own set of laws governing family and child welfare, there are characteristics common to all: Anonymous reporting, the flow of the investigation, and the overarching welfare of children in the actual, or suspected presence of willful, as in non-accidental, physical and psychological harm.

Child Protective Services

Child Protective Service operates within the Department of Children and Families or DCF. It’s important to remember that the Child Protective Services’ role is to keep children safe from the threat of physical and psychological harm. While they may provide referrals to services as part of a case plan, they are not there for your wellbeing.

Although each state may differ slightly in the wording, child neglect can be considered in the following ways:

  • Inadequate food, shelter, or medical care for the child
  • Placing a child in your care at a known risk of harm when you could have prevented the exposure and chose not to
  • Harm includes access to harmful substances, witnessing the abuse of substances, being taken on trips to acquire drugs, etc

Even if the suspected abuser is not the parent or caregiver directly, once the abuse or risk is made known, you, as the parent or legal guardian, are responsible for preventing further exposure to the risk of harm.

The Report

Every investigation begins with a report. This report may have been submitted by anyone involved in your child’s life. In some professions, such as law enforcement and anyone working with children, reporting suspected child abuse is mandatory with penalties. If something happens to that child, it later emerges that they failed to act.

The reporter must always remain anonymous. Even if you think you know who it might be, under no circumstances can your CPS investigator disclose or hint at the information to you.

The process goes like this:

  • The allegation is called to the Child Abuse Hotline
  • Details are provided
  • The case is assigned to the appropriate CPS team in the state/county/city, etc.
  • A supervising CPS investigator assigns the investigation to one of the state-certified and licensed Child Protective Investigators on their team

Following the Report

Once the report is received, an attempt to contact the victim must be made within 24 hours. However, if the child is an infant, under-five, special needs, has a severe injury, or may have been exposed to harmful substances, the investigator may initiate contact in as little as three hours.

First Contact

Initial contact is made with the child either at school, daycare, hospital, or at home. Child Protection Investigators do not need your permission to speak to or observe your child. Verbal children may be asked questions concerning your use of a substance. For example, let’s say your child watched the crushing of Oxycontin or Xanax pills before inhaling via a straw; your child has probably been exposed to substance misuse.

A child who cannot speak for themselves will be checked for bruises and other types of injury not consistent with regular play. An infant born to parents addicted to substances, including alcohol, will be checked for alcohol and different drug levels.

Contact with You

Once the CPS investigator makes contact with you, the allegations will be explained, and you will have an opportunity to answer those allegations.

During the home visit, the CPS investigator may, depending on your state, ask you to submit a urine-based drug test, which can be administered and analyzed during the visit. You may have the right to refuse this test if you are concerned the results may go against you.

During the home visit, the Child Protective Investigator will observe or perform a home visit with a checklist. The home visit checklist is as follows:

  • Habitable conditions. When we use substances, sometimes our desire for the next fix is more significant than cleaning, cooking, and taking care of ourselves.
  • Ensure there is sufficient food for everyone in the house. Your children may be asked what they eat and if they can recall their last meal in the house.
  • Interview other children residing in the home, including non-family members. Non-verbal children and babies are checked for bruises and malnourishment.
  • Is drug paraphernalia such as needles, syringes, actual substances within reach of children? The younger the children, the greater the level of risk.
  • Can children describe substance misuse? Have they observed anger or violence following the ingestion of substances by a family member?

Child Removal

In extreme cases, particularly cases where children’s safety cannot be guaranteed, the child will be placed in temporary foster care. In most states, the goal is to place the child in the least restrictive situation. Least restrictive is a legal term referring to the placement of children with a family member closest to the parent from whom the child is being removed. For example, where the child’s parents are separated, it may mean placing the child with the other parent. If the other parent is not suitable, unknown, or cannot be located, another relative such as a grandparent, aunt, etc., may be considered. Sometimes, none of these people are suitable due to age, poor health, lifestyle, or location; in this case, the child may remain in long-term foster care until a case plan is complete.

Family Court

Child removal is dealt with in the family courts. In situations where there has been an emergency removal of a child from their home, the burden of responsibility is placed on Child Protective Services to demonstrate why removing that child was necessary. This must take place during the next available hearing, usually within 24 hours.

If the judge determines that the threat of harm was not adequately demonstrated, the judge will immediately rule that the child be returned to the parent. If the judge agrees with Child Protective Services, the child will remain in foster care, or under the supervision of a selected family member, pending a trial and disposition hearings. At this point, the case is monitored by the judicial branch of Child Protective Services in conjunction with other provider services, ensuring the completion of a case plan.

Child Remains

If it is determined the child can remain in the home, a case plan is put in place. Case plans should provide support during attempts to modify behaviors such as those found in substance abuse.

A case plan might include:

  • Parenting classes
  • Anger management, stress, and other behavioral classes
  • Domestic violence survivor support
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Job training and skills improving
  • Referral for mental health services

When the child remains at home with a case plan in place, the case then goes out to a service provider agency that will offer services.

Case Close-Out

Simply put, where the children may remain safely in the home, the investigation is closed out with “findings of abuse” or “findings of no abuse.” In some states, categories of abuse found will be indicated.

Cases where the child remains with the parent, are typically closed out within 30 to 45 days of the initial investigation. If, however, your child is removed, expect your case to remain open until the full outcome has been determined through family court.

If new allegations emerge during the investigation, they will be added as a supplemental to the case, meaning they will also be investigated. During the investigation, and especially if your child is taken into protective custody, you are entitled to seek legal counsel to advise you of your rights as they relate to your situation. Where relevant, they may represent you in court hearings.

Following the closure of your case, you will be entitled to a copy of the report.

Your Safety

This sounds like a lot! It is. However, knowing the process beforehand can help provide you with the knowledge of what looks right and what doesn’t.

On the flip side, Child Protective Investigators’ professional referrals can help get you started with substance abuse treatment and other services sooner. Parenting support can also provide much-needed insight and knowledge relevant to your situation.

That said, bear the following in mind:

  • NEVER hand your child over to someone claiming to be from CPS. Legitimate investigators don’t say stuff like, “Your partner called in and said I have to take your kid because you’re on drugs.” Remember, the reporter’s name is ALWAYS confidential. And just being on drugs is not necessarily reason enough to remove children from your home.
  • Always ask for identification before speaking to anyone. This should be shown to you during the introduction.
  • You should always be provided with a pamphlet or literature containing the agency number and possibly the supervisor’s name. If not, ask for one.
  • Investigations should be carried out professionally and with respect for you, your children, and your situation.


Sometimes, we find ourselves involved with Child Protective Services or Child Protective Investigators despite our best parenting efforts. This can be worrying, especially when we are not sure what to expect. Knowing can be half the battle, with prior knowledge providing an opportunity to take steps now in thinking about sobriety and addiction management. Hired Power’s discretion and confidentiality assure anonymity through all stages of returning to wellness. Whether moving to your detox program safely and with discretion, to recovery and sober living partners that can help you through the holidays, Hired Power is there for you or your loved one, standing as that bridge between you and traditional recovery plans. You don’t have to struggle alone; our personal recovery assistants are here to help you walk through this process, believing in you, empowering you to change—step by step. Call Hired Power today at (800) 910-9299. We look forward to hearing from you.