Ensuring the care and safety of every child is not only the responsibility of Child Protective Services under the California Department of Social Services; it is everyone’s responsibility. If you provide caregiving services to children, you have a civil responsibility to protect those children. By familiarizing yourself with what signs to look for, you can help ensure that all children are free from abuse. If CPS has been called to your home, you should consider hiring a CPS lawyer.

What Is Child Protective Services?

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a government agency dedicated to protecting children throughout the country. If any concern is discovered, whether raised by another individual or through any other means of discovery, it is the role of a CPS officer to investigate the concern, pursuing a claim if necessary.

CPS will conduct thorough investigations through home visits and interviews in order to discern whether a child is in an environment that presently or potentially threatens harm to them through abuse or neglect.

What Is Child Abuse?

Abuse toward a child can manifest in several different forms. It is important to understand the differences, as well as how each one is equally damaging to a child, whether that damage can be seen physically or not. With regard to children, abuse can refer to:

  • Physical abuse. Any deliberate violence that results in harm, pain, or bodily injury is considered physical abuse.
    • Examples include hitting, burning, shaking, choking, or causing broken bones.
    • Signs include unexplained bruising, changes in behavior, social withdrawal, and a refusal to discuss injuries.
  • Mental/Emotional abuse. Any pattern of behavior that inflicts psychological damage to the child’s self-esteem or emotional development is considered emotional abuse.
    • Examples include manipulation, threatening, isolating, and belittling.
    • Signs include low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations, lack of trust in authorities, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and challenges forming relationships.
  • Sexual abuse. Any inappropriate sexual contact, exploitation, or behavior is considered sexual abuse.
    • Examples include touching, grooming, flashing, and exposing to explicit material.
    • Signs include unexplained pain in the genital area, bedwetting, changes in behavior, or a refusal to participate in physical activities.

If you notice any unusual signs of behavior or changes in appearance, it is vital that you report those changes immediately. It is far better to trust your gut and err on the side of over-reporting than to second-guess yourself and risk not intervening.

What Is Child Neglect?

Neglect occurs when a caregiver of any kind fails to properly provide essential needs to the child, causing harm to their overall well-being. While children live in a wide range of varying degrees of comfort, there are certain basics that no child should be without. These include:

  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Supervision
  • Medical care
  • Hygiene

Neglect can also take the form of abandonment, in which a caregiver leaves a child without adequate arrangements being made for their care. Children who are abandoned, no matter the reason, are at an increased risk of harm, stunted development, and emotional trauma.

To recognize signs of neglect, watch out for:

  • Ill-fitting clothing
  • Poor hygiene
  • Frequent unexplained absences
  • Frequent requests for necessities, like food or clothing
  • Hunger and fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, lack of hope, or despair
  • Difficulty forming relationships

Knowing what to look for is key to being able to appropriately raise concerns regarding a child’s health and well-being.

Mandatory Reporting

All citizens, especially those who spend any meaningful time around kids, have a duty to care for them by reporting any suspicions or concerns related to abuse or neglect. If everyone is vigilant, the number of unresolved incidents should drastically decrease.

There are, however, certain roles that are required by law to report information related to suspicions of abuse or neglect. They include:

  • Teachers
  • Public school employees
  • Administrators at child-focused institutions, such as camps, day-cares, or rec centers
  • Coaches
  • Pastors or clergymen
  • Police officers
  • Firemen
  • Emergency response workers
  • Doctors and nurses
  • Many others


Q: What Is Reportable to CPS in California?

A: In California, any indication or suspicion of abuse or neglect toward a child is a reportable incident that should be disclosed to CPS as soon as possible. This includes signs of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or signs of neglect. In order to report the suspected abuse, it is not necessary to have witnessed it happen first. California law allows for reporting of non-first-hand accounts, meaning it is enough to raise a concern over signs of abuse.

Q: Can You Call CPS Anonymously in California?

A: Child Protective Services is required to keep any information regarding the identity of a person reporting an incident of child abuse confidential and is restricted by law from revealing or disclosing the source of the information. As a result, all persons who may obtain information indicating possible abuse or neglect are strongly encouraged to contact CPS right away. If you are a mandated reporter, you must disclose your contact information, but it will remain confidential.

Q: How Long Do I Have to Make a CPS Report in California?

A: For many caregivers, you are mandated by California law to report concerns of potential child abuse or neglect. Upon receiving the information related to the concern, whether you know or suspect it, you are required to report the abuse right away or as soon as is practically possible. After reporting by phone, you then have 36 hours to prepare and send a written report of the incident. The report must be submitted on a Department of Justice form.

Q: How Long Does It Take for CPS to Investigate in California?

A: When CPS receives notice of a case, they will begin investigating as soon as possible—usually within 24 hours, depending on the severity of the alleged concern. The investigation itself can take up to 30 days, however, to fully complete any and all interviews, home observations, and reports.

During this time, the CPS officer will gather as much data as possible, including medical reports, psychological evaluations, and other examinations, to properly understand the validity of the concern.

When It’s Time, Call CPS

By knowing what signs to look for, every caregiver can better protect the children around them from harm by contacting the proper channels when necessary. CPS aims to stop abuse and neglect in its tracks. For obvious reasons, it is optimal to intervene as early as possible.

If you suspect a case of abuse or neglect toward a child, it is imperative that you not wait to contact them. If you are in any way involved in a CPS claim, or if you are on the receiving end of an investigation, contact a CPS lawyer and attorney today.