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Understanding the Various Types of Caseworkers in Neglect/Abuse Cases

Child's hand overtop of parent's hand

It’s always good to know what you’re dealing with when it comes to CPS!

In some of our family law cases, our clients are also dealing with some sort of caseworker in a related neglect/abuse case. However, we might not know exactly with which type of caseworker our client is dealing with. Knowing the answer to that—and then understanding the differences between the various types of caseworkers—will help us best represent our clients in the neglect/abuse case and in our family case.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”), formerly known as the Department of Human Services, is a department of the Michigan government that serves a variety of functions. Some of the more well-known functions are public health, the keeping of vital records, managing state aid (such as cash assistance, food stamps, and children’s health insurance), and, of course, investigating and dealing with cases involving abuse/neglect. The division within DHHS that investigates and deals with allegations of child abuse and neglect is called Children’s Protective Services (“CPS”).

Within CPS, there are three main types of workers, the first of which is the Central Intake Worker. Central Intake is a call center designed to intake all allegations of abuse/neglect from all over the state of Michigan. Should the case meet various screening criteria from the Central Intake Worker, the case “gets assigned” to the second type of CPS caseworker: a CPS Investigator (sometimes called a Children’s Services Specialist) in the county in which the children are found. CPS Investigators typically have up to 30 days to complete their investigations, and those investigations typically include, at a minimum, speaking with the children and parents involved. Whether the case moves on to another type of worker is determined by what the CPS Investigator does with the investigation.

If they deny the allegations at the conclusion of the investigation, their work is done and the case never moves on. However, if they substantiate the allegations, they may continue in one of two ways: they may open up an out-of-court case, or they may file a court petition. If the CPS Investigator opens up an out-of-court case, they typically ask the parents to “voluntarily” participate in out-of-court services, with or without a safety plan, under which the children or a parent are “voluntarily” residing outside of the home. If this occurs, the case will likely be serviced by the third type of CPS caseworker, which is a CPS Ongoing Worker.

Unlike a CPS Investigator, whose job it is to identify if the family has problems, the job of the CPS Ongoing Worker is generally to monitor the parents’ progress in out-of-court services to ensure they rectify the problems already identified during the investigation. However, if the CPS Investigator opens up an in-court case by filing a neglect/abuse petition with the court, yet another caseworker could be assigned to the case. Generally, if the court has ordered that the children are “removed” from the home, a Foster Care Worker is assigned to the case. Unlike Central Intake Workers, CPS Investigators, and CPS Ongoing Workers, a Foster Care Worker is not under the umbrella of CPS, but instead is under the Foster Care division of DHHS. However, like a CPS Ongoing Worker, the role of a Foster Care Worker is also to monitor a parent’s compliance with a service plan. But beware, as they could see their role in the case as working more towards termination as opposed to reunification.

Once a court has jurisdiction in an in-court case, we typically see the CPS Investigator (who is generally the “Petitioner”) stepping back or falling completely out of the case. There are always exceptions to any rule. One thing not understood by many family law attorneys is that a case can be in-court, but can be serviced by a CPS Ongoing Worker. This can happen in cases that start with what is called “in-home jurisdiction,” meaning the children are not removed from one or both parents. For example, if the father is a Respondent in the in-court case, yet the court agreed that the mother acted appropriately and the children are best left with the mother, the court may place the children with the mother at the start of the case and order the father out of the house. In situations like this, the children have not been removed from all of the parents, thus the case would be serviced by a CPS Ongoing Worker as opposed to a Foster Care Worker.

In our experience, parents are often confused about what type of caseworker they have. Parents often call all caseworkers “CPS workers,” even if they are not. Most of the time, parents October 2018 Michigan Family Law Journal 15 do not know why they had one person working with their family and a few weeks later got another. Parents tend to assume it is simply because the first worker got another job (which does happen far too often, complicating matters further). As their attorneys, it is our role to help parents understand who they are dealing with at DHHS. It is also our role to help our clients understand the differences between the various types of caseworkers. For us to do that, we have to have an understanding of that, too.

A good place to start research would be looking at the various manuals on the DHHS website, such as the Children’s Protective Services Manual (the “PSM”) and the Children’s Foster Care Manual (the “FOM”). These manuals contain the DHHS policies that are supposed to be followed by the caseworker. Understanding the varying roles of the different types of caseworkers is critical in giving good advice to our clients. For example, while advising clients not to speak with a CPS Investigator may be sound advice in some circumstances, it may be detrimental to the client if the case is in-court, the court has jurisdiction, and the parents are actually dealing with a Foster Care Worker. Having dealt with the various types of caseworkers for many years, we realize that there are nuanced and not so-nuanced differences between all these types of caseworkers and their roles in the case, and it is important that we adjust our strategies accordingly.

Written by Stephanie Service, CPS Defense Attorney, The Kronzek Firm

About the Author – Stephanie M. Service is an associate attorney at The Kronzek Firm, PLC, where she practices family law and neglect/abuse defense. Stephanie works hard to defend parents across Michigan from allegations of child abuse/neglect, as she believes that in most cases, parents have a right to raise their children as they see fit.

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