No one ever wants to be accused of a crime against a child. However, if someone hears or sees something that causes them to suspect child abuse, you could be under investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS) and charged with a crime by law enforcement. How does the outcome of the CPS investigation affect criminal charges?

In Ohio, as in other states, there are many occupations that have mandatory reporters of child neglect or abuse. Teachers, counselors, and other public service officials must report suspicions or accusations of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. These complaints are submitted to the local affiliate of the Ohio of Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), Children Services, or Child Protective Services (CPS). Within 24 hours, the agency must determine the immediacy of the need for response to ensure the child’s safety. The agency will investigate the complaint and produce a report with their findings that either substantiate or negate the claim. The report also provides for several levels “in between” substantiated or unsubstantiated conclusions along other information. If you are charged with the crime of neglect, emotional, or sexual abuse that information will be used in the criminal case against you.

  • Can Social Services remove the child from the home?
  • Can CPS have me charged with a crime?
  • What does CPS finding levels mean for the family?
  • How does a children services investigation affect criminal charges?
  • How does Child Protective Services get involved in a sexual assault allegation?

Child protective services investigators will show up at your home if they suspect abuse or neglect in the home. You can and should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are suspected of a crime against a child. The CPS agent will likely want to question everyone in the family face-to-face separately and may visit your home, school, or workplace to do so. Their observations, questions, and conclusions will lead them to one of the resulting levels. Those levels (highest to lowest) include:

  • Substantiated
  • Indicated
  • Alternative response disposition – Victim
  • Alternative response disposition – Not a Victim
  • Unsubstantiated
  • Closed-No Findings
  • Other
  • Unknown or Missing

Each conclusion type means something different for the entire family.

If the claim is substantiated, the investigator concluded that there was abuse or neglect, and if the child is at risk of harm or neglect in the current living environment, not only can they have the child removed from the home, but criminal charges will follow. A substantiated report will be used as evidence to support prosecution in a criminal case.

An indicated, or reason to suspect finding will also result in being charged by police. While there may be no “hard evidence,” such a finding can be used similarly to a substantiated claim in the criminal case. The CPS investigator could have reason to believe multiple members of the family were involved, and anyone he or she includes in the report can be charged.

An alternative responses conclusion is when the agency does not find the need for a full investigation but continues to support the family and provide services to help resolve the concern made in the report.

A criminal defense attorney can help determine what the findings mean for you and your family as well as what is admissible and is not admissible as evidence in court. CPS findings of “not a victim” or “unsubstantiated” can work in your defense if you are charged with assault, abuse, or neglect.

Of course, the best-case scenario for the family during a CPS investigation is that the child/children are not or were never endangered, which will result in the case being closed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t face scrutiny from police and others.

Whenever you are confronted with the possibility of a child abuse investigation or charge, it is imperative that you take it seriously and immediately contact a criminal defense attorney with experience in child abuse, assault, and neglect cases.

Resources: Child Welfare Information Gateway