A&A: Obtaining HHS/Child Protective Services Records Via CPRA

Q: Recently I had an erroneous claim filed against me through child protective services alleging child neglect. This was quickly marked as ‘unfounded’ and closed.  However, the agency will not give me access to either the initial report filed or the filing party’s name. The only information they are giving me access to is to request a summary of my meeting with the case worker and an overview of the case. I feel that as an accused party, and as the only parent of the child named in the case, I should have access not only for my own records but I should be able to know who my accuser is. Do Child Protective Services Records and Report filings fall under the California Public Records Act? If not would they be subject to a FOIA request?

A: Under the California Public Records Act, public records—which include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Gov’t Code § 6252(e)—are presumed to be open to the public and must be disclosed unless a specific provision of the Act or other law exempts them from disclosure.  Some of the PRA’s statutory exemptions are specific and defined, while others are relatively broad—however, all exemptions must be construed narrowly in favor of disclosure.

You might want to submit a formal written request to Child Protective Services for the records that you seek, which will compel the agency to respond to you in writing.  If the agency is claiming the records are exempt from disclosure, it should, in its response, state the specific exemption it is claiming.  Once you receive a written response, you can further analyze any claimed exemptions to see if they are valid or not.  You can find more about the PRA, including a sample request letter here.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.

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