Fact check: Child Protective Services has authority from statute to intercede in families
The claim: Child Protective Services is for-profit organization with no legal authority over parents or children
A March 20 Facebook video shows a man speaking about the legal authority of Child Protective Services.
"Does Child Protective Services actually have jurisdiction over you and your children?" the man asks. "The answer is no. You guys, Child Protective Services is a for-profit corporation."
The man then claims the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments are evidence that CPS has no legal authority over families.
The video garnered more than 500 shares in four days, while a version of the same clip posted earlier on TikTok garnered more than 1,000 likes in the same amount of time.
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Our rating: False
The post misrepresents CPS, which typically refers to a series of government agencies created by state and federal laws to protect neglected or abused children, according to experts. These entities have authority over families under the laws creating them.
CPS refers to series of government agencies
Naomi Cahn, co-director of the University of Virginia Family Law Center, said "Child Protective Services" generally refers to the government agency charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect.
"It typically does have legal authority over families," Cahn said in an email. "Under certain circumstances – the precise circumstances vary by state – CPS can take children into protective custody and place children in foster care."
CPS is typically a state agency, but some states have opted to contract with private companies to fill this role, according to the Children's Bureau, part of U.S. Health and Human Services.
Those companies are regulated under state law and have authority from state law to intercede in families, subject to statutory guidelines.
"They have to follow procedures," Robert Sedler, a former law professor at Wayne State University Law School, said in reference to CPS' legal authority. "They can't simply come in and say, 'We're taking your child,' but there are emergency circumstances where they can temporarily remove the child from the parent's custody, where the child's welfare is an issue."
Sedler noted there are also limited circumstances where abuse has been severe enough that the state can go through a legal process to terminate parental rights entirely.
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The legal doctrine of "parens patriae" reflects the principle that the state is responsible for the welfare of children, according to Sedler.
In accordance with this, several federal and state laws and regulations provide the framework for CPS, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which says the state has the authority to permit CPS to do the following:
To pursue any legal remedies, including the authority to initiate legal proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction, to provide medical care or treatment for a child when such care or treatment is necessary to prevent or remedy serious harm to the child, or to prevent the withholding of medically indicated treatment from children with life threatening conditions.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the post for comment. The TikTok user couldn't be reached.
The claim has been debunked by Lead Stories as well.
Our fact-check sources:
Naomi Cahn, March 24, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Robert Sedler, March 28, Phone call with USA TODAY
Lead Stories, March 24, Fact Check: Child Protective Services Is NOT A 'For-Profit Corporation' Without Jurisdiction Or Authority
Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2018, Federal/State Laws and Regulations for Child Welfare
Child Welfare Information Gateway, October 2020, How the Child Welfare
Child Welfare Information Gateway, accessed March 29, Privatization
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 24, 2020, The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
Cornell Law School, May 2022, Parens patriae
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Post misrepresents Child Protective Services