Monday, June 24, 2019

Responding to a CPS Child Abuse complaint and identifying who reported

Receiving notice from the Department of Child Services [DCS] that a report has been filed alleging that you have abused or neglected your child can evoke anxiety in even the most mentally tough individuals. Knowing the laws and preparing for the interview can reduce this strain and ensure a better outcome for you and your child.

I was contacted recently by a father who had received such a notice and was clearly anxious. In counseling we discussed the nature of the allegations and his responses. Interestingly, a substantial portion of the allegations were stale; they related to situations occurring five to ten years earlier.

The father agreed to meet the caseworker to discuss the allegations. As there had been some recent activity by him against ancillary parties to the custody case between he and Mother we suspected that it was a retaliatory complaint.

During the interview Father remained calm and poised, answering questions as presented. But first he had a few questions of his own. Particularly, he asked if the caseworker knew who made the complaint and if there were any actions that could be taken against somebody for making a malicious report. The answers were that the caseworker did know who made the report but could not disclose because of confidentiality requirements.

Confidentiality can be broken though which I will get around to revealing.

The father was told that the county prosecutor can take action against individuals making false or malicious reports of child abuse of neglect to CPS. In this case the prosecutor may be asked to do so.

In the custody case the parents share joint legal custody. The child’s primary pediatrician is Dr. Meredith Potrzebowski, a member of Community Physicians Network, who has been so for three years. This doctor has been reluctant, at best, to comply with the law[fn1] allowing father access to the child’s medical records.

Due to the obstructive nature of Dr. Meredith Potrzebowski toward Father on multiple occasions he filed a complaint with the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana against her records keeper, Keri Fisher, R.N., last year. The crux of his complaint was that he sought clarification as to dosage levels prescribed for the children when mother provided an ambiguous response. Mother is the former IPS school teacher who testified that there are 56 weeks in a year. Nurse Fisher replied, "legally we are only allowed to discuss (daughter's) medical care with her mother." When pressed by Father to comply with the law by providing records or he would make a complaint Fisher ignored the request.

The Office of the Attorney General of Indiana released its conclusions in this matter [18-CP-56319] on 26 April 2019. This was just three days before the complaint to DCS was filed by Dr. Potrzebowski. The AG concluded, "We reviewed all available evidence and submitted our findings to the governing Board. It was determined that we cannot conclusively prove that a violation of the statutes and rules governing licensed professionals has occurred." [emphasis added]. The AG didn’t state that there wasn’t a violation but basically said there was no smoking gun that made it a clear cut winnable case.

Going back to the current CPS case, recall that I said the allegations were mostly stale. In thinking about the allegations, who would have known that years ago the father had moved business materials into the home and that it filled the living room for awhile? Who would have known that the children were not allowed to have free access to all foods in the house?

Logically, one could certainly speculate that someone who had regular interactions with the children and may have regularly questioned them about their home environment or other factors which may contribute to allergies would know this history.

Father and I suspected that it was the children’s pediatrician, Dr. Meredith Potrzebowski. We didn’t have to wait much time for confirmation. In an email from attorney Robin Niehaus, which I received shortly after our discussion of who made the malicious allegations, she stated, “It is my understanding the children’s pediatrician turned in a complaint to CPS”. Well it doesn’t take a big logical leap to conclude that Potrzebowski made a false, malicious report to CPS in retaliation for Father’s valid but not conclusively provable complaint to the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana.

Three days after the Attorney General makes a decision to not prosecute comes an allegation to CPS from a doctor who got the information up to three years earlier. Clearly sounds like a vindictive abuse of the system by Dr. Meredith Potrzebowski to me.

Neihaus additionally stated that it was also her understanding that Father had refused to cooperate with the CPS investigation.

I found it interesting that Neihaus was told that the father had not cooperated, but I do not know to whom she spoke. Shannon Pickering, the supervisor of the case worker who conducted the investigation, indicated that Father did cooperate and that by Wednesday of this week the case should be closed as “unsubstantiated”. However, she did state that father demanded that the investigator obtain a warrant/court order to enter and inspect the house.

Fourth Amendment rights apply to CPS investigators just as they do law enforcement agencies. If a police officer knocks on your door and says, “someone told us you were dealing drugs out of your home ten years so I just want to come in and have a look around” then you are well within your rights to refuse. That refusal may not be considered anything other than a neutral response and cannot be the basis for probable cause. Similarly, Ms. Pickering stated that it is not considered "non-cooperation" for a parent to not allow an impromptu inspection.

If you are contacted by CPS and told that an allegation of abuse or neglect has been made against you the first thing to do is stay calm. Review the allegations. Review the relevant statutory provisions. Keep in mind that the case-worker is performing a job to protect children and doesn’t know you until you make yourself known. So, be polite and cooperative. Cooperative can be as simple as returning a phone call and stating that you will make yourself available to comply with any court order related to the investigation. Cull clues from the allegations that may lead you to the identity of who made the report to CPS. This can help you formulate any responses you may make.

Finally, have confidence in the system. This father was anxious and was sure he was going to “get screwed” by CPS. By following the advice I just provided we were able to make a likely conclusion as to who made the report [which was later confirmed by attorney Neihaus] and formulate a plan based upon that conclusion. At the onset of the interview he immediately asked about the repercussions for a doctor making a false, malicious allegation in response to a complaint by him against the doctor to a regulatory agency. That set the tone for the investigation. As I learned late last week our suspicion was apparently correct. On Friday I was then told the case would be closed two days from now as “unsubstantiated.”

[1] Indiana Code 16-39-1-7 stipulates the circumstances under which parenting time may be restricted. It provides as follows;
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a custodial parent and a noncustodial parent of a child have equal access to the parents' child's health records.
(b) A provider may not allow a noncustodial parent access to the child's health records if:
(1) a court has issued an order that limits the noncustodial parent's access to the child's health records;  and
(2) the provider has received a copy of the court order or has actual knowledge of the court order.
(c) If a provider incurs additional expense by allowing a parent equal access to health records under this section, the provider may require the parent requesting the equal access to pay a fee to cover the cost of the additional expense.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Make a suggestion for me to write about.

Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

View Stuart Showalter's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to my child custody updates

* indicates required
©2008, 2019 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in its’ entirety with credit given.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The entire time I raised my 4 children I had to take their Father back to court for not paying child support. He played the system the entire time, he had 4 incomes. Now he's sitting in A Thrift Spend Trust and owe around 60k plus college expences. His parents set his trust like this for knowing he's a drug attic. How can i make him pay arrears and college expences on our son. He never paid 1 medical bill or health insurance. I always worked 2 jobs. My kids are grown, I want him to pay for what he should have.