Child Protective Services

child-protective-servicesChild Protective Services (CPS) is an umbrella term for government agencies designed to protect children from child abuse, provide family intervention services, recruit foster parents, and assign children to foster care. State agencies may have different names, such as Department of Family and Children Services or Child Services.

What is Child Protective Services?
CPS performs a broad variety of functions dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of children. Directors of CPS often have advanced degrees in social work, psychology, developmental psychology, and similar fields. Most state CPS departments have branches dedicated to different elements of child protection, including abuse detection and investigation, foster care referrals, family reunification, and family intervention.

CPS workers are often called case workers, and typically have some background in developmental psychology or social work. The roles of case workers vary from state to state and are partially dependent upon the branch of CPS in which the case worker works, but common roles include:

  • Developing parenting plans
  • Investigating allegations of abuse
  • Interviewing children in foster care
  • Ensuring children’s needs are met when their parents are accused of abuse or when they are placed in foster care
  • Advocating for children in the court system

Controversies in Child Protective Services
There are several different philosophies governing how CPS should operate. Some states advocate immediately removing children from abusive homes, while others emphasize teaching parenting skills and keeping parents together.

Case workers often have very large case loads, which can make it difficult for them to monitor and track each child. There have been several highly publicized cases of children dying while in CPS custody. Training varies greatly, and there is no nationwide standard for investigating abuse. In some states, investigators might not notice all instances of abuse, while in others, a simple allegation of abuse might be sufficient to warrant extensive CPS involvement with a family.

Some researchers argue that children from poor families and minority children are more likely to be removed from their parents and less likely to be reunited with their families.


  1. Failed to Death. (n.d.). Denver Post. Retrieved from
  2. Lu, Y. (2004). Race, ethnicity, and case outcomes in child protective services. Children and Youth Services Review, 26(5), 447-461. doi: 10.1016/S0190-7409(04)00029-5

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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  • Steph G

    Steph G

    November 19th, 2017 at 11:11 AM

    I have a question-what does one do if the child has become co-dependant upon their case worker? I mean, to the point that you know thye are close to aging out of the system, and you give them a timeline that they can stay in the system until they turn 21 or sign out at 18 and their answer is “I want to stay with you”, as in the caseworker-personally. Shouldn’t it be ethical-at that point-that a different case worker take over the case? Especially if one knows there is an adoptive resource trying to work and one knows the child is nervous because they do not want to leave the case worker?

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