Q. What are the criteria that form the basis of an educational neglect charge and what training do DSS workers receive to qualify to make such judgments?
A: DSS does not actually charge anyone with anything. North Carolina is a compulsory school attendance state. Therefore, parents are required to adhere to the state law that requires their children to receive an education based on state standards, including attendance. If they do not adhere to the law, the school system may seek to have criminal charges brought against the parents through the District Attorney’s office.
If a child refuses to attend school the parent may seek to bring the child before the court as an undisciplined juvenile. If DSS receives a referral as part of this process, that referral will be handled as any other case. DSS workers are trained in child protection law. School social workers, who are not part of DSS, handle issues of attendance outside of child protection law. Social workers utilize resources from both the CMS system and state home school licensing office to help in assessing neglect involving educational issues.
Q: The issue of immunizations is very interesting. By law parents may choose not to have their children immunized because of their religious beliefs. We may not agree with the Strattons but it should not have been an issue in Family Court as it is their right.
A: North Carolina law prohibits the County from revealing any information about specific child protection cases, to protect the privacy of the child(ren) involved. Therefore, the answer to this question will be in general terms.
North Carolina law requires that all children be immunized. It is a public health issue to protect not only the children but those who come in contact with the children. A certificate of immunization is required for school attendance. The law recognizes two exceptions to the requirement: a medical exemption; and a bona fide religious exemption. When children are in the custody of DSS under the Court's jurisdiction, the court decides what is in the best interest of the child. Therefore, the court would decide if parents have a valid reason for not immunizing their child.
Q: Is poverty a crime and lack of vaccinations justification for removing children from parents? It certainly seems to be a factor in a surprisingly large number of DSS cases.
A: Children are not removed from the home due to poverty or for lack of immunizations. A number of issues factor into whether or not a child is receiving adequate care in a home. There are many poverty-stricken families whose children DSS has not removed and is not seeking removal. There are many families whose children have not been immunized and DSS is not involved and has not intervened. However, in cases where there are any number of factors – such as poverty, lack of immunizations, lack of adequate food, shelter, clothing, or appropriate living environment -- causes a child's basic needs to be unmet, North Carolina law requires DSS involvement to ensure the children's needs are met. As a result, DSS would be compelled by law to intercede.
Q: In fairness, DSS handles some pretty awful cases, cases in which parents do abuse their children in most despicable ways. The community should intervene in these cases and criminal charges should be pressed if warranted. But poverty is not a crime. And self-sufficiency -- the refusal to accept services from the government, especially a government agency that you have reason to believe doesn't have your best interests at heart -- is (I would suggest) a virtue. Instead, DSS asserted that the Stratton's unwillingness to accept food stamps was an example that they were not doing all they could and should to care for their children.
A: State law prevents the County from revealing information on any individual child protective case. Therefore, the answer to this question, similar to others posed, will be in general terms.
Children are not removed from the home due to poverty in and of itself. Neither would children necessarily be removed due to a parent's unwillingness to accept Food Stamps or due to a refusal of government services. However, if the parents in a poverty-stricken condition were to refuse all assistance and do not take sufficient action to ensure the children have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, needed medical care and other basic life-supporting necessities, this would constitute neglect according to the standards established by the State of North Carolina. As a result, DSS would be compelled by law to intercede.
Q: If the children are not in immediate danger, why aren't the children left with the parents (and extended family and friends) while working with DSS to improve home conditions?
A: State law prevents the County from revealing information on any individual child protective case. Therefore, the answer to this question will be in general terms.
There are many reasons besides being in immediate danger that would result in the courts authorizing a child be removed from its home. Such reasons could include but are not limited to evidence of consistent lack of food, lack of proper shelter or housing conditions, lack of proper clothing, lack of proper supervision, abandonment, lack of necessary medical and remedial care, or a combination of several of these reasons and/or others.
It is not the intent of DSS to remove children as a matter of course. Efforts are made in most cases to work with families to maintain the home intact, if that can be accomplished without compromising the safety and welfare of a child. For DSS to assess the immediate needs of the children and offer services, there must cooperation from the family. This approach requires the family to cooperate in the development and fulfillment of the case plan that describes the steps the parents should take to improve the safety and well-being conditions for the child or children.
Q: Is there a law stating a person cannot be poor and raise a family?
A: No, there is no such law. However, there are state criteria describing conditions that constitute child neglect. While poverty itself does not constitute neglect, parents in poverty must provide for the basic life-supporting needs of their children including food, clothing, shelter, needed medical care and other basic life-supporting necessities. If parents were unwilling or unable to provide these basic needs, this would constitute neglect according to the standards established by the State of North Carolina. As a result, DSS would be compelled by law to intervene.
Q: Is there a law stating that a person has to accept help from the state to help his/her children if in fact after finding there was or is no need for such assistance?
A: There is no law that requires the parents to accept services, if DSS does not find the family in need of assistance. If DSS receives a referral and after investigation finds that there is no need for services or that the children are not at substantial risk of harm, then DSS closes its case. That is a finding made by DSS after investigation. DSS is mandated by law to complete an investigation after a referral is accepted.
Q: Who makes the decisions as to defining words or phrases in our state statutes?
A: The elected leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have final approval of state statutes. Language in N.C. Statutes is interpreted by N.C. judges, based on the facts presented in a court of law.