“Can CPS Interview My Child Without Notifying Me, The Parent?”

7photoMany parents don’t know that a CPS social worker can go to their child’s school and interview the child without even notifying the parent. These types of interviews happen all the time. My office is contacted regularly by worried and angry parents who learned that their child was subjected to an interview at school.

There is a good reason that CPS interviews kids away from their parents. Parents are most likely to be perpetrators of abuse on children, as opposed to strangers. The purpose of CPS investigations is to determine whether the child’s home and environment is safe. Because children can be victims of abuse by their parents, close relatives, or other household members, a child may be less likely to respond candidly to questions regarding abuse while in the presence of the abusing household member or within the abusive environment.

As a result, when a child’s safety at home is a concern, CPS may lawfully interview the child at school and away from the home environment. Because the child’s safety is the primary concern in these circumstances, parents are not entitled to notification of the in-school CPS interview. However, there are constitutional limitations to the extent of CPS’s ability to question children without parental consent.

In Greene v. Camreta, a social worker and a uniformed police officer interviewed a child in a private office at the child’s school with a law enforcement officer present for two hours about possible sexual abuse by her father. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that traditional Fourth Amendment protections regarding unlawful seizures applied to the case. Thus, the in-school interview violated Constitutional protections against unreasonable seizures because exigent circumstances did not exist, and the social worker did not obtain a warrant or parental consent before the interview began. The case was granted certiorari by the United States Supreme Court. However, the Court did not reach the Fourth Amendment issue after first finding that the case was moot. As it customarily does when a case becomes moot pending appeal, the Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling requiring social workers to obtain a warrant or parental consent prior to interviewing a child in school, unless exigent circumstances exist. [1]

Because the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling due to mootness, the issue will have to be re-litigated before the constitutionality of interviewing children in school is finally determined. However, various counties issued new guidelines to avoid Fourth Amendment violations.

For example, Los Angeles County changed its interview policies to require social workers to consult with their superiors and county counsel to determine the appropriateness of obtaining parental consent before attempting to interview the child in school. The County also instructed social workers to consider obtaining the child’s own consent in cases involving children over the age of twelve. Further, the County limited the duration of in-school interviews conducted without a warrant, parental consent, or consent of a child over twelve, to thirty minutes. The County instructed social workers to continue an interview past the thirty-minute limitation only if necessary to protect a child from an imminent risk of harm, which would likely occur in the time it would take to get a warrant. Lastly, social workers were instructed not to conduct interviews in the presence of law enforcement, unless necessary to protect the child from imminent harm.[2]

While the exact constitutional limits of in-school CPS interviews has yet to be established and social workers may legally conduct in-school interviews without parental consent, parents should nonetheless be aware of the constitutional rights that may be implicated by this practice. It is always a good idea to contact an attorney to determine whether CPS has acted within the bounds of the law.

[1]Opinion available at, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1454.pdf;

See also, http://www.llrmi.com/articles/legal_update/2011_us_camreta_greene.shtml

[2] lacdcfs.org/Policy/FYI/2010/FYI1034SchoolIntrerviewforER.rtf