The Negative Repercussions CPS Investigations Have on Children

Child Protective Services (CPS) undoubtedly serve a purpose when there are legitimate instances of abuse.

But like everything else in the world, this government agency isn’t always the conquering hero that it purports itself to be. The world doesn’t operate in black and white, and CPS isn’t beyond that universal truth. It exists in the shades of gray most organizations of its ilk do (i.e., law enforcement agencies).

At the end of the day, those working in CPS are only human and are prone to making mistakes: legal mistakes, mistakes involving poor judgment, and sometimes mistakes caused by poor morals (such as dishonesty). The problem, however, is when child protective workers commit errors in judgment, there are severe ramifications.

Families are unjustly torn apart. Children are taken from their homes and schools while being separated from their friends and love dones. Even when a parent is ruled blameless, it could adversely impact their relationship with their child.

Some Necessary Context

First, I’ll mention that much of the research brought forth in this blog comes from an article called “Harms to Children and Parents Inherent to Abuse Investigations.” It was published by Illinois Parents and Children. (See also Mira, S., & Finley, G.E. (2004). Harms to children and parents inherent to abuse investigations. Children of divorced, separated, and never-married families, 19 (1), 22-23.)

Initially, this work brings up how, in the 1960s, there was a widespread call-to-action for what was believed to be a crisis in childhood neglect and abuse.

The response to this was, in a nutshell, CPS units across the country launched child abuse investigations.

At the time, these investigations were viewed as an altruistic practice with no victims. The only goal was, as the name of these agencies suggests, to protect children. However, come the 1980s, perceptions shifted enough to provide something of a counter-trend—and for a good reason: throughout most states, there was over a 50% occurrence of unfounded child abuse investigations. This troubling statistic would suggest a crisis on the opposite end of the spectrum.

What Does This “New” Crisis Suggest?

The article puts forth some alarming theories, supported by facts, about this trend of unfounded investigations.

First and foremost, the governing bodies involved in child protection are willfully ignorant of the potential harms and consequences of these investigations. Furthermore, under the current system, investigatory practices are being performed without paying mind to the well-being of both children and parents.

Given that we regularly work with parents in this situation, we are all too familiar with the undue damage that can be done to parents.

But, for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the children.

How Do CPS Investigations Harm Children? Fracturing the Parent-Child Relationship

The #1 example of the harm done to children through unfounded investigations is exacted on the parent-child relationship.

Even if it was once healthy, the bond a parent and child have can become disrupted and distant. Perhaps it has something to do with seeing one’s guardian knocked off a pedestal and questioned in such a compromising manner.

Separating the Child from There Parent

It’s not uncommon for CPS workers to overzealously take children away from their parents.

In many of these instances, these investigators are working within the framework of the authority being given to them. However, they aren’t applying common sense or humanity to the situation. For instance, in 2014, a child in North Carolina was taken away from her mother due to playing at the park on her own.

Think about this: the child would now be subject to foster care because her mother allowed her to be at a playground alone. Of course, unsupervised play comes with its risks, but it’s heralded by experts as sound parenting.

Then consider that the chances for harm within the foster care system far exceeds what could occur at a playground.

When hearing stories like this, you wonder how these services actually protect the child.

Overall Stress

Those subjected to these investigations now must suffer through exhaustive questioning. It’s even been known for overly aggressive investigators to try and coerce answers, making children feel threatened.

Even worse, children are often subjected to genital examinations, which can be extremely traumatic and is obviously very invasive for a young child (or any adult, for that matter).

With this lack of empathy and understanding on display, one thing becomes entirely clear: in trying to accomplish their goals, some (many?) CPS investigators forget what they’re meant to be. Perhaps these situations stem from a focus on political and financial agendas, filling quotas, and validating paychecks—not protecting children.

Not only do our children deserve better, but so do their parents who are being subject to unlawful and inhumane actions.