Child Protective Services (CPS) works to protect children in the U.S. Their job is to stop abuse and neglect in its tracks. They are the first to help vulnerable kids most when they need legal intervention. A better understanding of when to call CPS for help can empower caregivers to minimize the effects of abuse and neglect on their children.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is deliberate violence against a child, resulting in bodily harm, pain, or injury. It can manifest as bruises, burns, cuts, or other injuries that may be suspicious or unexplained. Physical abuse can range from hitting, shaking, or biting to more severe actions like burning, choking, or causing fractures.

Tips for recognizing signs of physical abuse can include:

  • Unexplained bruises or bumps
  • Changes in behavior, such as sudden mood swings and fits of anger
  • Withdrawing from friends or family members
  • Refusing to talk about injuries

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is a pattern of behavior that damages a child’s emotional development and self-esteem. This abuse can include belittling, threatening, isolating, or manipulating a child. Emotional abuse might not leave visible scars, but its impact can be long-lasting, affecting the child’s mental health and interpersonal relationships.

Tips for recognizing signs of emotional abuse can include:

  • Low self-esteem or an unrealistic view of the world
  • Speech patterns that indicate a lack of trust in adults
  • Fear, anxiety, depression, or withdrawal from peers
  • Difficulty forming relationships with family and friends

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves inappropriate sexual contact, behavior, or exploitation involving a child. This can include touching, exposure to explicit material, or grooming. Strangers do not always perpetrate sexual abuse. Often, the perpetrator is someone the child knows and trusts, such as a family member or a close acquaintance.

Tips for recognizing signs of sexual abuse can include:

  • Refusing to change clothes or participate in physical activities
  • Unexplained pain, itching, or bleeding in the genital area
  • Bedwetting or nightmares
  • Changes in behavior, such as excessive shyness or aggression


Neglect occurs when a caregiver does not provide a child with the essential needs for their well-being. This can include inadequate shelter, clothing, food, medical care, or supervision. Neglect can be unintentional, stemming from a caregiver’s inability to cope with their responsibilities, or it can be deliberate, reflecting a caregiver’s disregard for the child’s needs.

Tips for recognizing signs of neglect can include:

  • Poor hygiene or clothing that is too small or very dirty
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Frequent hunger, fatigue, or illness
  • Constantly asking for necessities, such as food or clothing

Substance Abuse by a Caregiver

Substance abuse by a caregiver refers to a situation in which the caregiver’s use of drugs or alcohol interferes with their ability to provide appropriate care for the child. This can result in a lack of supervision, neglect of basic needs, or exposure to dangerous situations. Additionally, substance abuse can lead to physical or emotional abuse if the caregiver becomes aggressive or irrational under the influence.

Tips for recognizing signs of substance abuse by a caregiver can include:

  • Unexplained absences or changes in the caregiver’s behavior
  • Appearing under the influence at inappropriate times or in front of the child
  • Difficulty making decisions, managing finances, or providing care for the child
  • Unsafe or neglectful behavior, such as leaving the child alone for long periods of time


Abandonment occurs when a caregiver leaves a child without making adequate arrangements for their care. This can happen for various reasons, including the caregiver’s struggles, a lack of resources, or a desire to evade responsibility. Abandoned children face an increased risk of physical harm, emotional trauma, and developmental delays.

Tips for recognizing signs of abandonment can include:

  • Sudden changes in the caregiver’s behavior, such as staying away from home or avoiding contact with the child
  • Unexplained absences from school or other activities
  • Difficulty forming relationships with peers or adults
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or despair


Q: What Should You Say and Not Say to CPS?

A: When speaking with Child Protective Services (CPS) representatives, be honest, cooperative, and focused on the child’s well-being. Share accurate information about your living situation, the child’s needs, and any efforts you’ve made to address concerns. Avoid withholding information, being confrontational, or providing misleading statements, as these actions can escalate the situation and impact the outcome of the investigation. Remember, CPS’s primary goal is to ensure children’s safety and welfare.

Q: What Does it Mean When CPS Red Flags You?

A: A “red flag” from CPS indicates that the agency has identified concerns during an investigation that require further attention. This could include potential abuse, neglect, or other issues compromising a child’s safety and well-being. Red flags could lead to increased scrutiny, more frequent visits, or additional measures taken to protect the child. Addressing these concerns promptly and working with CPS to resolve any identified issues to protect the child’s welfare is crucial.

Q: What Can CPS Legally Do?

A: CPS is legally authorized to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, and they have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of children. During an investigation, they may interview family members, visit the home, and speak with other individuals connected to the child. If necessary, CPS can collaborate with law enforcement and the courts to implement protective measures, such as establishing a safety plan, placing the child in temporary custody, or initiating court proceedings to determine a favorable course of action for the child’s welfare.

Q: What Is Considered Child Neglect?

A: Child neglect refers to a pattern of inadequate care or failure to meet a child’s basic needs, which may be physical, emotional, medical, or educational. This can include failure to provide proper food, clothing, shelter, supervision, or medical care, as well as failure to address emotional or educational needs. Neglect can be unintentional or deliberate and may result from a caregiver’s lack of knowledge, inability to cope, or other factors. It is crucial to identify and address neglect early to avoid the long-lasting adverse effects on a child’s development.

Contact My SoCal Lawyers Today

If you have any further questions about your rights and responsibilities as a parent or guardian or need help navigating CPS, contact My SoCal Lawyers for personalized guidance. Our experienced CPS attorneys can help protect your rights as a parent and ensure you always make decisions that are in your child’s interests. Contact us today to begin the conversation.