First and foremost, your house should be tidy. There is no law which requires you to maintain a clean house, but understand that CPS workers pass judgment every day based upon their observations, their beliefs, their training and their life and professional experiences.
Having said that, your house should also be free from hazards, especially hazards to children. Common hazards that I see in my CPS cases:
- Chemical products. Think about all of the stuff we keep in our house that we would not want our children to ingest. So, prescription and over the counter medication should all be put away in locking cabinets if there are young children in the home. Parents should exercise reasonable judgement about what is necessary with older children. Cleaning products are often toxic and need to be secured. Home improvement products such as paint, thinners, solvents and industrial cleaners fall into this category as well.
- Scald hazards. This is important. Do you know the temperature of your hot water? Each year many children are burned from water faucets that are too hot. Make sure your water heater is not set too high. Use a thermometer to check the temperature and make sure the temperature is appropriate for the residents of the house. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your kids are too young to turn the faucet on. Every year, children are burned when parents get distracted and children reach for the hot water faucet. There are plenty of web sites that talk about what the proper temperatures are, but here is a trustworthy source.
- Construction hazards. If you have any exposed studs, uncovered electrical outlets or open floors due to construction or home improvements, you need to take appropriate steps to make repairs. Until repairs are made, rooms with hazardous conditions should not be accessible to children. Think carefully about trip hazards, fall hazards, electrical hazards and any other construction or safety hazard that would be a problem if you had a building inspector in your home.
- Illegal Substances. It should be obvious that a CPS investigator would take action if illegal drugs were found in the home. Any drugs will cause concern, but Methamphetamines may be the worst. This is because the manufacturing process for Meth and some other drugs creates health hazards for occupants of the home. Also, any drug sale activity in a home where children reside is a problem. In some situations, Michigan law allows a court to take jurisdiction over children when there is criminality in the home. If a parent is a card-holding medical marijuana patient, it is important to follow the law strictly regarding growing and securing the plants and product. Also, make sure that the children are never exposed to marijuana and make sure that parents under the influence are not caring for a child.
- General Home Considerations. In addition to the issues discussed above, there are some general concerns that CPS may be interested in. Each worker may have their own set of things they look for. Here are some common ones:
- Refrigerator: Is there food in the refrigerator? Is it clean and appropriately stocked with healthy food?
- Cupboards: Is the pantry adequately stocked for a family of this size?
- Laundry: Are there dirty clothes lying around?
- Pets: Are the pets clean and healthy? Are there fleas or lice? Are there any excrement deposits in the house? When you enter the home, does it smell like animal messes?
- Locks on Doors and Windows: It is a big problem if windows are permanently secured so that they can’t be opened or if doors can be locked from the hallway side so children can be locked in. Not only is this a violation of fire code, it is an unsafe condition that will always get the attention of a CPS worker.
- Electrical outlets: All outlets and switches should be covered by unbroken switch plates and outlet covers.
- Prescription medications. Are they out or put away?
- Beds and bedrooms: Does every child have a place to sleep? Are boys and girls sharing a room? If yes, is it age appropriate? Do the bedroom assignments allow adults in the home to be appropriately discreet? Considering the entire situation, are the children safe from harm when sleeping?
- Trash: Hopefully, there isn’t any in the house.
- Garage and Basement: If children have access to garages, basement, attics or out buildings, they need to be clean and safe.
- Lights and switches: Make sure they all work.
- Smoke alarms: Test them. Make sure they work.
It is generally true that the more things we find wrong, the more we look for things that are wrong. If your house is clean and in order, you are likely to have an easy time with a home visit. If your kids seem to be orderly and appropriate you will likely have an easy time with a home visit. Take the time you need with your children when a CPS worker is in your home. Don’t get rattled or start yelling at the kids. Do what you need to in order to keep the kids calm. First and foremost, this means keeping yourself calm. Kids will always reflect what they see in their parents so take a deep breath before you open the door.