Q: Recently, a CPS investigator came to our elementary campus unannounced and requested to interview a student in a private room. The investigator would not give campus administrators any details. The principal knows that the family has had domestic troubles and was concerned with letting CPS talk to the child without parental notification. In the future, can my principals call parents to notify them that CPS is interviewing their child?
A: Yes, but only if the CPS investigator consents to such notification.
Texas Family Code §261.302 provides that CPS may interview/examine children who are the subject of a report of abuse or neglect “at a reasonable time and place, including the child’s home or the child’s school.” Investigators can make unannounced visits to school campuses for purposes of conducting these interviews and must make their identity and credentials available to campus administrators when they arrive. While investigators are expected to identify themselves and work with campus staff to obtain the interview with minimal disruption, CPS is still given wide access to children at school under the law. To that end, the Family Code provides for legal consequences (and in some cases criminal penalties) for anyone who interferes with a CPS investigation. Should a campus not allow a CPS investigator access to a child for an interview, the investigator can obtain a court order requiring the school to present the child for examination. When an investigation into suspected abuse/neglect is underway, courts often work fast to ensure that the investigation can move forward; thus, a court order (and possible sanctions) is likely to follow should a school refuse access to the child.
Often, CPS investigators are on campus because of suspected abuse/neglect by a parent. Thus, TASB recommended local policy at GRA (LOCAL) leaves the discretion with CPS to determine whether or not the parent is notified in advance of the interview, and campus administrators must comply with their request. The policy provides that the principal “ordinarily shall make reasonable efforts to notify the student’s parent or other person having lawful control of the student. If the interviewer raises what the principal considers to be a valid objection to the notification, the parent shall not be notified.” This policy provision anticipates that the principal discuss with the investigator the possibility for parent notification before actually contacting the parent. Typically, the investigator’s reason for denying a request to notify the parent will be due to the parent’s alleged involvement in (or knowledge of) the suspected abuse or neglect. We advise complying with the investigator’s request and documenting that consent to notify the parent was denied, along with an explanation of the investigator’s reason. Acting under a lawful request by CPS will insulate the district and its employees from any challenge later by a parent concerning lack of notification. On the other hand, refusing to comply with the investigator’s request (and notifying the parent anyway) could subject the district and/or individual employee involved to legal consequences, including criminal penalties, for interference with the investigation and potentially subject the child to continued abuse by the perpetrator.
Documentation of the investigator’s visit to campus will be key to ensuring that the district has cooperated with CPS. We advise making copies of the investigator’s driver’s license (or other ID), as well as the investigator’s CPS credentials. Should the investigator raise an objection to notifying the parent, document the investigator’s reply and proffered reason. Take comfort in the fact that CPS is required by law to notify the parent within 24 hours after speaking with their child. Anticipate subsequent questions; however, explain to parents that all concerns they have regarding CPS, including the Agency’s presence on campus and communication with the parent’s child, are to be directed to the Department of Family and Protective Services.