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The Basics of Child Protective Services

IncarcerationIf Child Protective Services (CPS) suddenly becomes involved with your family, you probably have some serious questions about how they operate and how the process will play out. Following are some answers to the most common questions about CPS investigations and outcomes.

What Is Abuse or Neglect of a Child?

Under Virginia Code § 63.2-100, an abused or neglected child is someone under 18 years of age whose parent, guardian, or other person responsible for their care:

  • Causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical or mental injury.
  • Neglects or refuses to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, emotional nurturing, or healthcare.
  • Abandons the child.
  • Fails to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age and level of development.
  • Commits or allows to be committed any illegal sexual act upon a child including incest, rape, fondling, indecent exposure, prostitution or allows a child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material.
  • Knowingly leaves a child alone in the same dwelling with a person who is not related to the child by blood or marriage and who is required to register as a violent sexual offender.

Who Can Report Child Abuse or Neglect?

Anyone can report child abuse or neglect. However, professionals who work with children are required by law to report abuse and neglect as “mandatory reporters.” The person reporting the abuse may remain anonymous if they choose. To report child abuse or neglect, you may call the CPS 24/7 hotline at 1-800-552-7096 (Virginia) or 804-786-8536 (Out-of-State).

What Happens After a CPS Report Is Made?

CPS operates under the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS). They are responsible for responding to reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. CPS will seek to determine if a report is valid. If it’s found to be not valid, it stays in the DSS system for one year. If it’s found to be valid, CPS will conduct a “family assessment.” At that point, if they choose not to close the case, they may conduct an “investigation” in cases with immediate child safety concerns.

Once an investigation is completed, CPS will determine if the claim is “founded” or “unfounded.” Parents who make a CPS report due to the other parent’s abuse toward their children may also consider petitioning the court for custody and visitation, or seeking a protective order from the court on behalf of their child.

What Is the Difference Between a Family Assessment and an Investigation?

During a family assessment, the goal is to assess child safety, strengthen and support families, and prevent future child maltreatment. CPS will contact the family to arrange for protective and rehabilitative services, as necessary. A family assessment must be completed within 60 days. After the assessment is completed, the case is closed, unless CPS determines that sufficient cause exists to investigate further.

In contrast, under Virginia Code § 63.2-1506, CPS can conduct an investigation when there are immediate child safety concerns, previous reports of abuse or neglect, or the report is required by law to be investigated.

What Happens After the Family Assessment and/or Investigation Are Completed? CPS will determine if the allegations are “founded” or “unfounded,” and will notify the relevant parties (the individual against whom the allegations were made and the parents or guardians), both verbally and in writing. Under 22VAC40-705-110 of the Administrative Code of Virginia, in the event of a “founded” disposition, the CPS case worker shall assess the severity of the abuse or neglect and assign one of the following levels:

  • Level 1: this level includes those injuries or conditions, real or threatened, that result in or were likely to have resulted in serious harm to a child.
  • Level 2: this level includes injuries or conditions, real or threatened, that result in or were likely to have resulted in moderate harm to a child.
  • Level 3: this level includes injuries or conditions, real or threatened, that result in or were likely to have resulted in minimal harm to a child.

Additionally, CPS is required by Virginia Code § 63.2-1503 to report certain types of suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement and the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The decision to file criminal charges or prosecute is made by the local Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you may call the CPS hotline to make a report. You may also consider petitioning for custody and visitation, if the alleged abuser is the other parent, and seeking a protective order from the court on behalf of the child.


If you find CPS involved with your family, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney in your area. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas and Fredericksburg-Stafford, representing clients throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.