In North Carolina, the Division of Social Services (DSS) is an agency whose primary goal is to prevent the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable citizens, and one way they do this is through investigating reports of child abuse and neglect.
A person may be investigated by DSS if someone notices and reports the following:
- A child has inexplicable bruising, welts, bite marks, bald spots, or burns
- A child repeatedly suffers from broken bones or lacerations requiring medical attention.
- A child does not have appropriate clothing for the weather and environment
- A child lacks appropriate meals and is underweight.
- A child falls asleep regularly and is fatigued
- A child is unusually wary of physical contact.
- A child has described being a victim of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse
- A child displays anti-social, destructive, or self-injurious behavior
If a report of abuse or neglect is filed, DSS is obligated under North Carolina law to follow up on the allegation. If a report is filed against you for child abuse or neglect, you can expect the following process to begin immediately.
Step 1: Social Worker Assignment
A social worker will be assigned to each case of suspected abuse or neglect. The social worker is required to begin investigating the allegations immediately or within 72 hours, depending on the severity of the report.
Step 2: Interviews & Home Visits
The assigned DSS social worker will typically go to your house and will speak with you, the child, and other members of the household. DSS is responsible for taking appropriate action to protect children who are being abused or neglected, but this does not automatically mean DSS will remove the child from your care. DSS will place a child outside the family home for specific, extreme situations.
DSS may also interview the person that filed the report, which gives that person the opportunity to raise concerns regarding your fitness to care for the children. Remember, this all comes back to the well-being of the kids.
The social worker will then review the household situation and interviews to determine whether the allegations fit into the legal definition of abuse or neglect. If so, the social worker will open a DSS case. However, if the allegations do not rise to the level of abuse or neglect, then there will not be a full DSS investigation.
Step 3: Investigatory Assessment
If the social worker finds that the allegations fit the legal definition of abuse or neglect, they will then conduct an investigation into the facts surrounding the alleged abuse or neglect and the current risk of harm to the children.
If you have not already contacted an attorney, it is important to do so at this time. The outcome of this investigation can affect your parental rights, custody, and visitation. Though you should always cooperate with DSS during the investigation, you do need an experienced attorney on your side that will help protect the rights of you and your child.
The investigation process can take anywhere from a few weeks to months; the average time for a DSS investigation is 45 days.
Step 4: DSS’s Decision
If DSS finds the abuse or neglect allegations to be substantiated, they will place your name on a registry list of people who DSS believes to neglect or abuse children, called the RIL, or Responsible Individuals List. You may appeal this decision to Court within 10 days; if you do not, your name will be added to the list automatically.
DSS will also take appropriate action if they find enough evidence to prove the allegations of child abuse and neglect are valid. This may include seeking to remove your child from your care and placing them with a relative, other parent, or in foster care. You may also be asked to complete recommended classes, get counseling, and make changes at home.
If DSS finds the allegations are unsubstantiated, the case will be closed.
Whether you are going through a custody battle, believe you should file a report with DSS about someone else, or have had an accusation filed against you, it is so important that you have the right team on your side to help you through the process. Contact our experienced family law attorneys as soon as possible by calling 704-512-0606.