When an allegation of child abuse occurs against the child's parent, social services often gets involved to evaluate the situation. The actual process that social services uses varies by state, but the rights of parents during the process remains the same. These rights are not the same as a parent would have without the allegations being present.
Rights During Investigation
Unless the child is in obvious danger, parents are typically given the benefit of the doubt after a first allegation is presented to social services. The investigation is conducted while the child remains with his parents. Children need stability in their lives and being unnecessarily removed from their homes can be more damaging, especially if the allegations end up dismissed as false. However, these rights are sometimes infringed upon when an overeager social worker removes a child from the home too quickly.
Right to Punish
The amount and type of punishment that is appropriate for a child is not detailed in the laws of any state. However, some states have a general guideline to follow as to what constitutes child abuse. For instance, some states allow corporal punishment, such as spanking, as long as no marks are left on the child. Other states make no stipulations at all and leave each case up to discretion. No state says that a parent has no right to punish her child, but it must be done in an appropriate manner as set by the state.
Parental Rights and Foster Care
If it is determined that the child is at risk if he remains in the home, social services may remove the child and place him in foster care. While the child is in foster care, the parents do not have the right to contact the child in any way. The parental rights are not stripped at this stage, but they are restricted to allow the investigation to complete. In many cases, a court appearance is scheduled where the parents can plead guilty and agree to follow a set plan for the child, including counselling and home visits by social services. According to Patrick Murphy, a public guardian in Illinois about 90 per cent of parents take the plea whether they are guilty or not, according to Fox/News.com.
Rights to Get the Child Back
If the allegations prove to be false or do not warrant permanent removal of the child, the parents have the right to get their child back. By law, social services must make a reasonable effort to come to a conclusion and, if deemed the appropriate action, return the child to her parents in a timely manner. The parents have every right to keep custody of their child unless it is not in the child's best interest. The goal is for social services to return the child to her family instead of keeping her in the foster system.
Termination of Rights
An allegation of child abuse does not necessarily mean that the parents will lose all rights to their child. However, if it is found that the abuse allegations are true and the child is in danger, social services may suggest to the judge that it is in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights. This step is not taken lightly. The abuse that is recorded must be severe enough to pose a physical risk to the child's well-being. Risk to the child's emotional well-being can also be considered but is more difficult to prove. A parent must also remember that failure to report or attempt to protect her child from abuse by the other parent is viewed as guilty the same as the abusive parent.