Child Protective Services Supervisors Are
Targets in Child Removal Lawsuits
The CPS supervisor is the senior partner in the decision to
have a child remain or be removed from its home. Because of
this status, the supervisor is often a named defendant in
these kinds of lawsuits.
By Daniel Pollack ｜ June 29, 2021 at 10:45 AM
A child died and Child Protective Services (CPS) was involved. At some point a
lawsuit is filed. The allegations can be encyclopedic: wrongful death, negligence,
failure to properly investigate, inadequate supervision and training, etc. The
plaintiff’s attorney sees red flags everywhere. Defense attorneys see waves of
discretionary decisions that had to be made. Wading through thousands of
documents, each side seeks to identify the key players and moments in the removal
Many decisions to remove a child from its caretaker are easily made. The abuse is
horrific and the person who caused it has already been arrested. Or, it’s an obvious
case of a disgruntled former spouse making a false allegation. In these kinds of
cases, a phone call from the front-line CPS investigator to her supervisor is brief
and their joint decision is clear. Many other removal decisions are not so simple.
Because child protective services law, policy, and practice are complex,
supervisors play key roles regarding the way in which the department responds.
The number of children removed from their homes is staggering. In her article,
“When the Child Protective Services System Gets Child Removal Wrong,” Diane
Redleaf writes: “CPS caseworkers continuously separate children from their
parents at a monthly rate 300 times greater than the number of the separations at
the Mexican border that took place in May 2018. These separations occur day in
and day out. They commonly happen in secret and without fanfare. CPS
caseworkers take children from their homes, their schools, and from hospitals if the
children have been taken for medical care following an injury or medical
condition. Children are also separated from parents, and sometimes from their
siblings too, at CPS offices and in juvenile/child protection/dependency
More crucial than providing leadership, gathering information, making sure proper
documentation takes place, ensuring that clinical referral strategies are properly
implemented, and overseeing whether timelines are met, the CPS supervisor is the
senior partner in the decision to have a child remain or be removed from its home.
Because of this status, the supervisor is often a named defendant in these kinds of
Across all work environments, while supervisors may be liable for employment-
related decisions in their official and/or individual capacities, it is often difficult to
ascertain just who made a CPS removal/remain-in-place decision. Moreover, the
remain-in-place decision may be made scores of times, while the removal decision
be made only once. In any event, it certainly seems, at least anecdotally, that CPS
supervisors are increasingly more susceptible to being sued and therefore are at
higher risk generally.
The charge of every state child welfare department is to promote child safety.
Toward that end, when an investigation is necessary to determine if a child is in a
dangerous living environment, there will be times a CPS supervisor and the
investigator/caseworker decide that a child should be removed. The Children’s
Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS, in a 2016 report, “Caseload and Workload
Management,” found: “Reducing and managing caseloads and workloads
are not simple tasks for child welfare administrators. Agencies face a number of
challenges, including negotiating budget crises and hiring freezes, addressing
worker turnover, finding qualified applicants for open positions, implementing
time-intensive best practices, and managing multiple reforms simultaneously
(Munson, McCarthy, & Dickinson, 2014). It can even be difficult to just determine
what the caseload and workload levels currently are and what they should be.”
How can nuanced removal decisions be deliberately made when there is an almost
universal acknowledgement that child welfare caseloads are excessive? Whatever
the answers, when a removal/remain-in-place goes wrong and a child dies or is
horribly abused, plaintiffs’ attorneys know to focus on the CPS supervisor
responsible for the case. Maybe that’s one reason why there is an estimated
national turnover rate for child welfare workers of 20-40% annually. As one report
described it, that’s a “Texas-Sized Turnover.” And that means that there are a lot
of CPS supervisors with Texas-sized targets for attorneys to aim at.
Daniel Pollack is an attorney and professor at Yeshiva University’s School of Social
Work in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 646-592-6836.