CPS Investigations and Juvenile Dependency

Unlike the juvenile justice system, Child Protective Services (“CPS”) investigations and Juvenile Dependency proceedings are generally civil, not criminal, in nature. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) – including the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and CPS, law enforcement and the dependency court are statutorily mandated to protect children from abuse or neglect.


CPS Investigations

CPS, a division of DCFS, is tasked with investigating and assessing reports of alleged abuse or neglect, referring parents to services in order to remedy conditions that pose a danger to the health, safety or welfare of children, and petitioning the court for out of home placement when necessary to ensure the safety of children. When DCFS receives a report of alleged abuse or neglect, CPS will “screen” the report to determine if it rises to the level of a credible report of abuse or neglect. If the report is not credible it is logged then “screened out” with no further action. However, if the Department finds the report credible it will refer the report for a subsequent risk assessment and investigation. When the department completes its investigation it notifies the alleged perpetrator of the report and the department’s investigative findings by certified mail to the person’s last known address.

There are two possible findings – unfounded or founded. An unfounded finding means that the investigating worker failed to find sufficient information to substantiate the allegation. On the other hand, a founded finding means that the CPS worker assigned to investigate the report found enough information to believe that more likely than not, the alleged abuse or neglect did occur. A founded finding is not trivial. A founded finding generally will preclude you from employment opportunities in daycare, social work, residential care, education, and foster care. It is important that you understand your right to challenge a CPS finding. If the report is founded, you only have the right to seek review and amendment of the filing if the request is made in writing within 30 days of mailing.

Statutory Authority

RCW 26.44 Et seq.

WAC 388-15 Et seq.


Juvenile Dependency

If it appears that a child is at risk of imminent harm based on the actions of the parent, guardian or child, the child may be placed in protective custody for 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays). For the child to remain in protective custody for longer than 72 hours, a dependency petition must be filed.

In the state of Washington, anyone may file a juvenile dependency petition alleging that a child is dependent and requesting court intervention. Typically, however, a dependency petition is filed by CPS, alleging that a child is abandoned, abused, neglected or without a parent, guardian, or custodian capable of adequately caring for the child. That being said, it is not uncommon for a dependency petition to be filed by a parent, guardian, or legal custodian when the child’s special needs or behaviors are so extreme that the child’s safety is jeopardized and that the parent, by no fault of their own, is unable to continue to care for the child without court intervention.

A finding by the court that a juvenile is dependent legally places the child under the temporary care, custody and control of the state of Washington. Finding a child dependent should not be taken lightly as such a finding could eventually lead to the termination of parental rights. That being said, the initial goal in a juvenile dependency proceeding is to safely reunite the family. Reunification often involves the parents and children successfully engaging in and completing court ordered services such as parenting education, chemical dependency treatment, or mental health counseling. Navigating the complexities of local services, protecting parental rights, and ensuring fair treatment is often difficult without competent representation.

Statutory Authority

RCW 13.34 Et seq.

For further reading please see: Parent’s Guide to Child Protective Services

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