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CPS Investigations and Findings

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CPS findings of abuse or neglect can keep you from working or volunteering with children, developmentally delayed adults, or the elderly for the rest of your life. This publication gives you information about your rights and responsibilities when CPS makes a finding against you. #2950EN


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Child Protective Services (CPS) is a statewide government agency. It is part of the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF).  The people who work at CPS are case workers or social workers.

CPS findings of abuse or neglect can keep you from working or volunteering with children, developmentally delayed adults, or the elderly for the rest of your life. Read this to learn about your rights and responsibilities when CPS makes a finding against you.

*For general info about CPS and its involvement with your family, or if a Dependency action has been filed, read Child Protective Services (CPS) and Dependency Actions.

Why is CPS investigating?

If someone reports child abuse or neglect to CPS, CPS must investigate.

How long will the investigation take?

CPS must finish its investigation within 90 days after the complaint. They can take longer only if law enforcement is investigating possible sexual abuse.

*If the CPS worker believes the conduct they are investigating is serious enough to be criminal, the police might conduct their own investigation. If the police contact you, contact a criminal defense attorney before speaking with them.

How will I know CPS is done with its investigation?

They must send you a letter. It will say CPS believes the allegation is one of these:

  • Founded - more likely than not the abuse or neglect happened

  • Unfounded - more likely than not the abuse or neglect did not happen

*You must get this notice! Make sure CPS has an address where you will get notices.  CPS must notify you by certified mail. You have a short time to challenge a finding.

How will a CPS finding affect me?

It shows up on a background check, even if you are appealing it. A CPS finding permanently keeps you from any paid or volunteer work giving you unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults.

This includes volunteering at a child’s school, housekeeping for a long-term care facility, or caregiver jobs, among many others.

Is a CPS finding against me a criminal conviction?

It is not a criminal conviction. It is an administrative finding.

Can everyone find out about a CPS finding against me?

No. It is not available to the general public.

How would employers learn about the CPS finding against me?

CPS reports its finding to the department of Health and Human Services’ (DSHS) Background Check Central Unit (BCCU). If you apply to volunteer or work with children or elderly or developmentally delayed individuals, you must let the employer request a report from BCCU. The CPS finding appears as an adverse action of child abuse or neglect. You cannot remove an adverse action from the BCCU report.

I got a “founded” letter from CPS. Now what?

This letter says CPS decided the allegation of abuse or neglect is true. You have 30 days from the date CPS sent the letter to ask them in writing to review the decision. CPS must receive your request within 30 days of the date you got the letter.

  • You must ask in writing that CPS review the decision. You can include more info for them to consider, such as your written explanation or witness declarations.

  • Date your letter to CPS.

  • You can mail or hand-deliver your letter to the CPS office that sent you the finding notice.

  • Keep a copy for your records with a note about how and when you sent or hand-delivered it to CPS.

If you do not request review within 30 days, it is very hard or impossible to get the finding off your record, even if it is wrong or you did not receive the notice. This is why you must give CPS a good address until you are certain the investigation is done.

A CPS supervisor must finish the review of your request within 30 days of the day CPS received it.

CPS’ review affirmed the finding. Now what?

If the CPS supervisor does not change the finding that you abused or neglected a child, they must send you a letter saying they “affirmed” the finding. You have 30 days from getting this letter to ask the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) for a hearing.

  • You must request the hearing in writing within 30 days.

  • Date your letter. Keep a copy of it.

  • Mail your letter requesting a hearing to:

  • Office of Administrative Hearings

  • P.O. Box 42488

  • Olympia WA 98504-2488

  • You have the right to ask for an interpreter at no cost to you.

OAH will send you and the CPS representative a letter about your case.  You must note any dates listed in the letter and appear in person or by phone on those dates.

What is a pre-hearing conference?

Before your hearing, OAH will set a pre-hearing conference with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). It will probably be by phone. The pre-hearing conference is your chance to understand the issues better and help you get ready for your hearing.

*Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing has more about the pre-hearing conference and the hearing.

What should I do or say at the pre-hearing conference?

Ask the ALJ to order the CPS representative to send you a copy of your entire file, if they have not already done so. You can ask for a paper or an electronic version, such as on a thumb drive.

What happens after the pre-hearing conference?

The ALJ sends another letter with the deadlines for you and the CPS representative to file evidence, such as documents, pictures, and other papers showing why the finding is incorrect, and to provide a list of witnesses. 

You must send the CPS representative an exact copy of anything you send the ALJ by the date in the ALJ’s letter. If the ALJ does not give a deadline, your evidence is due to both the ALJ and CPS representative five days before the hearing.

When will the ALJ set the hearing date?

If there are dates or times you cannot go to the hearing, tell the ALJ at the pre-hearing conference, or send OAH and the CPS representative a letter. Otherwise, OAH will just set a date. Changing it can be hard.

What happens after the hearing?

The ALJ sends you and CPS a written decision (an Initial Decision).  If you or CPS disagree with it, you can appeal to a Review Judge who works for DSHS' Board of Appeals (BOA). This appeal is called a Petition for Review. The Initial Decision says

  • how to petition for review
  • the deadline to do so 

*You must complete a Petition for BOA Review before you can appeal to Superior Court.

What is the appeal to the Board of Appeals like?

It is in writing only. Neither you nor CPS appears before the Review Judge. The Review Judge considers only documents and testimony from your ALJ hearing. You cannot add any new facts or documents on appeal.

You must present all your evidence (documents and testimony) at your hearing with the ALJ.

If you send the BOA a written appeal, you must send the CPS representative a copy. CPS will have a chance to respond in writing to your appeal, and vice versa.

The Review Judge will send you and CPS a written decision (a Review Decision).

Can I appeal the Review decision if I disagree with it?

Yes. You can file a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision to the Superior Court in your county or Thurston County Superior Court. You must file this within 30 days of the date of the Review Decision. If you cannot find a lawyer to help you file your appeal to Superior Court, use How to Petition for Superior Court Review.

They closed my “case.” Is the investigation over?

It depends. CPS might have more than one “case” involving you. One CPS department might offer services to help fix issues with you and your children. Another investigates abuse and neglect.  CPS might close your “services” case but continue the abuse or neglect investigation even after they stop contacting you. 

The investigation is only over once you get a notice saying the allegation is Founded or Unfounded, even if more than 90 days have passed. If you are not sure if CPS has an open investigation, contact them and ask. Protect yourself against misinformation. Follow up in writing. Save a copy for your records.

What is the law about CPS investigations and findings?

State laws about CPS investigations and findings are in statute (Revised Code of Washington, or RCW) and regulation (Washington Administrative Code or WAC). The key laws are:


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of October 2018.

© 2018 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


Last Review and Update: Oct 16, 2018