Several stages exist for possible legal and Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement for adolescents with illegal sexual behavior. The stages are described here in general, but it should be noted that the procedures followed differ depending on the laws and policies in each state, tribal, and local jurisdiction. In some states, the counties determine whether or not CPS is involved in these cases. 

Child Protective Services are state or tribal programs who assess children’s safety and work with families to protect children from abuse and neglect.  They are sometimes referred to as the larger state agency, such as the Department of Children and Families, or Department of Human Services, or Child Welfare.

We know it can be difficult for you to deal with the legal system and CPS under any circumstances. It is even more difficult when your child has been involved in illegal sexual behavior. It can seem like people outside your family are making all the decisions about what your family has to do and what will happen to your child. You may think the decisions are unnecessary, unfair, or otherwise not the best thing for your child or your family. 

It is important to remember that the legal system and CPS exists to protect the community. Police officers, state attorneys, CPS workers, probation officers, and judges are required to take certain steps to make sure that people are safe. In juvenile court, sometimes called family court, those key judicial people are required to establish a plan so that children such as yours will not have illegal behavior in the future.

Your family may also be involved with Child Protective Services (CPS), the state agency that works with families to protect children from abuse and neglect. CPS is usually involved if the victim is in your home or if you have young children who might be at risk. CPS’s role is to make certain that all children in your family are safe. CPS typically recommends that the adolescent be removed from the home for a period of time. Depending on the offending youth’s progress in treatment, the child victim’s progress in treatment and wishes, and the family’s situation, CPS may later recommend that the youth be reunified with his family or that he not be returned to the home. 

CPS personnel are often directly involved with the family, spend time in the home, develop a safety plan, and make recommendations that affect the whole family. Understandably, it is often difficult for a family to have such a close inspection of its personal activities, and parents can easily become upset and frustrated from the process.  It is important to remember that CPS staff have a required job to do, even though, at times, the staff’s role can be difficult for your family to accept. 

It will be helpful if you understand the roles of the legal and child protection services systems.  If you understand what legal and CPS personnel are doing and why they are doing it, things will go more smoothly. It is in your family’s best interest to make every effort to work with personnel in those systems, be cooperative, have patience, and consult with legal counsel as needed. 

An attorney can help you effectively deal with the legal system. A private attorney or public defender can provide you with information and advice that will be extremely helpful in dealing with the legal issues involved, such as how your teen should respond to the charges, how a plea agreement can be made, and what rules the boy will need to follow while on probation.

For more information about the investigation process:

This link provides state information on handbooks for parents going through a child abuse and neglect investigation that are available according to the state:

This link provides access to policies and laws by state:

For information about reporting suspected child abuse and neglect see

No system is perfect.  Checks and balances in the legal and child protection systems are set up to review activities and decisions. If you think your youth’s or family’s rights have been violated in the process, you can request a case review by the separate teams.

Steps in the System, From Investigation through Case Closed

After a report of illegal sexual behavior has been made to CPS or the police, the first step is to conduct an investigation of the report to determine if there is evidence the behavior occurred and if there are ongoing safety concerns.

  • Law enforcement’s role is to investigate whether a delinquent or illegal act was committed. 
  • CPS will be involved to determine the safety of the children in the home. 

Depending on their ages and language abilities, the children involved will typically be interviewed by law enforcement, CPS, or a forensic interviewer at a Child Advocacy Center if one is available in your area to obtain information about what happened. Otherwise interviews may be conducted in your home, at the victim’s school, or other places that authorities consider to be appropriate. You, your teen, members of your family, or other indi­viduals may be interviewed in order to provide a thorough investigation.

Your teen may be taken to a police station and interviewed by law enforcement officers. Most states require that you or another adult be present when your teen is interviewed and that the Miranda rights (the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney) are read and understood. Your family may choose to have an attorney present at the interview to represent your teen. 

If the information obtained in the investigation suggest that illegal sexual behavior occurred, police will forward the information to a state’s attorney who will determine if charges are to be filed against the adolescent. CPS personnel may make recommendations to the court about steps to be taken to ensure the safety of all children in your home. 

Note: There are cases in which it is determined that the youth’s behavior is problematic but does not rise to the level for formal charges to be filed or that alternative interventions are in the best interest of everyone involved.In these cases, it is important for parents to address the behavior with the youth, provide appropriate education and supervision, and make a referral for assessment to determine if psychological treatment is recommended. 



If the state’s attorney determines that it is appropriate to file charges, the charges can be filed against an adolescent in juvenile or family court, for what is termed a delinquent act, or in adult court, as a criminal act. The decision about whether the charges will be filed in juvenile or adult court typically depends on local laws and practices that consider factors such as the adolescent’s age, the seriousness of the illegal behavior, and previous history of illegal behavior. While states and local jurisdictions vary, most cases of illegal sexual behavior by youth under age 18 are handled by the juvenile courts in order to provide rehabilitation services to the adolescents. 

 It is important to note, however, that the objective of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate youth while the objective of the adult criminal system is to punish indi­viduals. Both court systems are committed to providing maximum safety to the community. Most cases of illegal sexual behavior by youth under age 18 are handled by the juvenile courts in order to provide rehabilita­tion services to the adolescents. This varies by state and tribal jurisdiction.

Your family can hire an attorney to represent your adolescent. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will help you obtain one. You and your child, in consultation with the attorney, will then decide how to respond to the charges—that is, whether to offer a plea of “yes,” the teen committed the act, or “no,” they did not, or another response recom­mended by the attorney, such as asking for deferred prosecution. Deferred prosecution is when an agreement is made to not press charges or proceed with prosecution depending on the youth completing requirements such as treatment. If the decision is to plead not guilty and have a trial, the case can be tried before a judge, or in some cases, before a jury.

If charges are not filed, the case may be closed and no further action will be taken against the youth by the legal system.

In some cases, Child Protective Services may remain involved and monitor a treatment plan for your family to ensure the safety of all children in the home.

Note: This process can take months or even longer to complete. Parents need to stay in contact with their teen’s attorney during this time.


In juvenile court, if your adolescent committed the act and decides to admit it, a plea may be arranged with the state’s attorney and a hearing before a judge will be held. If your son is found to have committed the illegal sexual behavior, he will be assigned to a juvenile justice agency. He may stay in the community with a probation plan or be placed outside your home in a group home or facility. If your son requests a trial and he is found “not guilty”, the case will be closed by the legal system. 


If it is determined that your teen performed illegal sexual acts, the judge, the state’s juvenile justice agency, and/or the Child Protection agency will decide if your child will remain in your home or placed somewhere else, such as another home in the community, or in a more secure setting. The placement typically depends on the severity of the behavior and the threat the adolescent poses to children in the home or in the community. In some states, the juvenile justice agency makes placement decisions; in other states, the judge makes the decision. In most juvenile courts, the prosecuting and defense attorneys, the judge, CPS staff, and probation/juvenile justice personnel work together to agree on the decision. 

It is important for you to meet with your son’s attorney before a decision is made about placement. If you do not agree with the placement decision, you need to work with your son’s attorney to see if changes can be made. You may be able to participate in this process, particularly if your son is to remain in the community rather than be placed in a residential setting. 

Any possible negative effects of out-of-home or out-of-community placement should be considered when making placement decisions. Negative effects can include an increased risk of future illegal behavior due to his involvement with other delinquent peers, the weakening of family ties, the absence of his family’s involvement in treatment, and a lack of normal adolescent social experiences. 

Many professionals recommend that most adolescents who have offended against a child in his home be placed outside the home but remain in the community. Depending on the circumstances of the case, however, he may live with his family during probation and treatment. For adolescents who are allowed to live in the community, many live with another family member or an approved friend of the family. If this is the case for your adolescent, you will need to assist the probation officer or CPS personnel in finding an appropriate place for your son to live. Probation officials, the court, and/or CPS will need to approve your son’s placement. 

Requirements regarding supervision of the teen must be clearly understood and agreed to by all involved adults. He will need to live where he will be well supervised and in a place where he is required to complete all aspects of his probation requirements. It is best if your teen can continue to attend his regular school and participate in ongoing school activities, but this is not always possible. Your son needs to understand that his behavior has caused many changes in his family, and the consequences of his behavior may mean that he has to change schools or not be involved in sports or other impor-tant activities that he likes.

Some adolescents need to be placed in a more restricted setting, such as a group home, a residential treatment facility, juvenile correctional facility, or other secure setting for youth. Decisions about a teen’s placement in a restricted setting will depend on many factors, including the type of treatment needed, the level of supervision that is necessary, and community safety. 

A small number of adolescents require psychiatric hospitalization to address their treatment needs. The hospitalization can be short- or long-term, depending on whether the purpose is to stabilize the child or to address their psychiatric problems. Some hospitals conduct treatment programs for adolescents with illegal sexual behavior as part of the youths’ overall treatment plan. Youth who are hospitalized should be discharged when their mental health disorders have stabilized, they have made progress in treatment, and they are responsive to adult supervision. They may be released to continue treatment in a community-based program and have ongoing monitoring of their mental health disorder. 



If your child is placed on probation and remains in the community, he will usually be assigned a probation officer who will supervise his behavior and activities. He will have a set of rules to follow, such as a curfew, regular school attendance, participation in one or more treatment programs, no contact with young children, community service, no further illegal behavior, and payment of court costs. In addition, you may be ordered to attend your teen’s treatment program.  Notification of the school may be required by the conditions of probation or by law.

The length of probation usually depends on how long it takes to complete the probation plan. The adolescent may have hearings scheduled The probation officer and treatment provider may be required to furnish reports of your teen’s progress to the court on a regular basis or the probation officer may be required to monitor the youth’s progress in treatment for the court. If the teen violates the probation plan, the judge can order a more restrictive placement, or additional sanctions. 



The youth is typically ordered to participate in a treatment program by the court. Depending on the youth’s placement, this may be in a community-based outpatient program in a residential program, or in a secure facility. 

Possible Registration and Community Notification

Some states require that youth under the age of 18 who are adjudicated for illegal sexual behavior be placed on a state and in some cases, a federal registry of sexual offenders. The registry may be available only to law enforcement or it may be open to the public, for example, via the Internet. The laws vary considerably from state to state and it is important for caregivers to be fully informed about the laws in their state and the federal requirements as well as other states if the family plans to move or if the teen plans to attend school or move to another state.  A federal law (Adam Walsh Act) was passed by Congress in 2006 that requires registration of some youth on a national registry of sexual offenders.  Several states have adopted and implemented the law while other states have not.  States may also have a notification law in which members of the community are notified that a youth has had a sexual offense. 

The laws vary considerably from state to state and it is important for caregivers to be fully informed about the laws in their state and the federal requirements. Parents can consult with their attorney, the Public Defender’s office in their city or county, or the state Attorney General’s office.  Information may also be available online in each state’s legal section, typically under Juvenile Sex Offender Registration. 

SORNA is the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act which is Title I of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-248).  For more information on how SORNA addresses youth with illegal sexual behavior see




When the probation requirements are met, your child’s case will be closed. You should check with your attorney to determine if your son’s records can be expunged (destroyed), as the procedures differ from state to state. 

Tips to Remember
1 The laws affecting youth with illegal sexual behavior vary by state.
2 An attorney can provide information and guidance during the legal process.
3 Most adolescents can remain in the community and in the school.
4 Some states require registration and community notification. Consult with a knowledge attorney.
5 Check to see if your teens court records can be expunged (destroyed) after the case is closed.