When a child is believed to be in danger or has already been severely neglected or abused, they may be removed from a home and transferred to the custody of the Washington State Child Protective Services (CPS).

State law defines abuse and neglect as injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, maltreatment, or negligent treatment of a child that indicates that his or her health, welfare or safety is jeopardized. Once they are placed in CPS custody, by law, a shelter care hearing must be held within 72 hours.

Judge determines where the child is placed

After removing the child, CPS typically places them in foster care or with a relative. This is only temporary and cannot exceed 72 hours, which does not include legal holidays or weekends. The goal of the shelter care hearing is to protect the child.

The judge will decide whether it is safe for the child to remain in the home or be placed in out-of-home care. They make that ruling after hearing testimony from the state, as well as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) representing the child, and the parents and their attorney or attorneys.

Visitation and available services are discussed

If the judge determines that the child should remain out of the home, a decision is also made on where they will live until a more in-depth hearing is held within 30 days. In the meantime, the judge decides:

  • Whether the parents are allowed to visit the child
  • What social services they may be eligible to receive
  • Whether to order medical, mental health, or drug and alcohol evaluations

Reasonable efforts must be made by parents

Showing a judge at a shelter care hearing that a parent or parents will take significant steps to improve the living situation for the child is essential to receiving permanent custody. Those efforts can include:

  • One parent moving out of an abusive spouse’s house
  • Baby-proofing a house, such as installing protective electric outlet covers and baby gates on stairways
  • Taking a child to a doctor or dentist to address health care needs

Knowledgeable legal representation is crucial

Having a child removed from the family home by the CPS is one of the most frightening experiences for any parent. However, a judge will always put the best interests of the child first. That’s why it’s essential for parents to receive experienced legal representation.

Courts will assign a public defender in some cases. However, in many instances, court-appointed lawyers are unable to provide the time, attention or expertise that are needed in custody-related matters. An experienced family law attorney will protect your rights and work for a favorable outcome in what can be a lengthy and challenging process.