In my years of representing clients in ACS cases (Administration for Children’s Services, the Child Protective Service (“CPS”) of New York City) on abuse and Neglect cases, a common thread of fact patterns generally arise. Generally ACS opens a case based upon an anonymous tip or phone call to the child abuse hotline. The next thing the parent knows, a full blown investigation is occurring and the parent is being called to court with the threat that their child or children is going to be placed into foster care. Many parents come to me when they have been called to Court, perhaps even having their children already removed from the home. The parent asks me with dismay, “how did this happen?”
To me, after interviewing the client, I completely understand why the parents are in the trouble they are in. They talked too much at the onset of the investigation. Below is a list of the Pros and Cons when dealing with ACS.
1. ACS knocks on your door should you let them in?
PROS: If you let them in, it will perhaps make them less suspicious and if a false complaint was filed against you they may quickly realize this once they interview you and your children (see my advice about allowing your children below) there is nothing wrong and may close the case quickly.
CONS: If you let ACS in, especially if you let them in when the house is disheveled, you’re arguing with your spouse, you are intoxicated, or before speaking to an experienced attorney, It can open up a can of worms. I have represented many clients, accused of a very minimal charges by ACS initially, who, by letting in ACS in caused greater problems. For example, in one case, a client of mine was accused of neglect because a call came in that they were smoking marijuana in front of their child. ACS was allowed into the apartment and upon being interviewed by the Case Worker the parents admitted to smoking marijuana and drinking on occasion. The parents, who were not drug or alcohol abusers, who did not smoke in front of their child, where forced into substance abuse treatment over the threat of losing their kid. This is because they both admitted to smoking marijuana. When one of the parents missed a couple of appointments at the treatment program, their case was called into court. Although the case was resolved without removal, their bad judgment in letting ACS in and then disclosing all of their personal information here while not under oath was not a good move. Not everyone that smokes marijuana on occasion or drinks is a bad parent, but it is the Agency’s job to make out a case against you and paint you in a bad light.
Thus, unless ACS is accompanied by the police or armed with a Court Order, do not allow them into your home. Send them away and tell them and call a Child Protective Attorney, like myself. If they have grounds to enter your home the can obtain a court order to do so. You never know what ACS will find when you let them in, so be careful. Furthermore, unless there is a Court Order to do so, you do not have to speak with ACS and you do not have to answer their questions.
Remember, if you don’t let them in, it may arouse suspicions and ACS may come back with a Court Order or come with the Police to get in or a Court Order for you to appear in Court. At this point you will have to either let them in or go to Court. You will have to use your judgment, but in my opinion, if the allegations against you are not that serious, the PROS outweigh the CONS in not letting them in.
2. ACS after obtaining access to your apartment wants to speak with your children alone, should you let them?
PROS: Once again, allowing CPS in and allowing them to talk to your children alone may decrease the aggressiveness of the agency in its investigation of you and may lead to a quick resolution of your case if nothing incriminating is found during the interview process.
CONS: “Kids say the darndest things.” I have had many clients who have allowed ACS to interview their child alone and their child throws them under the bus to the caseworker. Kids, especially young ones, make up stories and lord knows this is the wrong time for a story to be made up. I have had a case where a child said to the caseworker that “my mommy is an alcoholic.” The child was five years old and probably didn’t even know what that was but most likely heard daddy and mommy arguing and repeated what he heard. The original investigation was not opened because of daddies or mommies drinking, it was for some unrelated allegation. The child’s statement, however, opened up a can of words an gave ACS more to investigate.
3. ACS wants to get HIPAA medical authorizations for you and your children, should you sign them?
CONS: I would never advise anyone under any circumstances to sign HIPPA authorizations without proper legal counsel and/or without Court Order. Very often people are forced to sign blank documents which give ACS carte blanche to conduct a fishing expedition into someone’s medical record.
4. ACS asks you if you drink or use alcohol, should you answer them?
CONS: No, see above example. Don’t lie, just refuse to answer the question and tell them that you want to speak to an attorney. Your admitting to use will always be used against you.
If you have a drug or alcohol problem, by all means get help for it. See a therapist go to AA meetings but as soon as you involve your use with your children, ACS will make your life very difficult.
5. ACS asks you if you have a prior history of mental illness.
See answer to Number 5. If you have mental health issues, and you know it, get help. It is your duty as a parent to do so. The Court cannot deny your rights as a parent so long as you are seeking out help for your condition. If ACS gets involved however, and you either admit to them a mental illness, you allow them into your medical history where they find it out (see the section about signing HIPPA releases) or by your actions it’s clear, you could lose your children.
What should you do if ACS is knocking on your door?
Ask them for details about the allegations. Many times, ACS will knock on your door and not even tell you what you are being accused of. If this is the case, and they do not have a Court Order, do not let them in. You have the right to know what you are bring accused of. Ask the Case Worker to also provide paperwork to you concerning the case. When an investigation is started on an ACS case, the agency generates a letter informing you that you are the subject of an investigation. From the date of this letter the time starts to tick on the investigation. ACS has 60 days to complete their investigation. You want to see a copy of this letter. If you can, try not to let them in until you talk to an attorney, if they do not have a Court Order to gain entry you have this right.
If you have any further questions, please contact me, a Brooklyn, New York City ACS lawyer at 718-864-2011.