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Child Protective Services - FAQ

If you have a question that isn't answered on this page, please submit it here. Remember, the County  is not able to discuss specific cases (See question below), so please submit general questions about Child Protective Services.  Answers will be posted here at
Last updated 11/15/02.

Here are some of the questions submitted by the public and the County's response:

Q. What percentage of children who enter into DSS custody or placement authority for the first time are reunified with their family?  How does this percentage compare with other counties?

Graph #1shows what percentage of children entering DSS custody in Mecklenburg County are reunified with their family, and how this percentage compares with other North Carolina counties.

In Graph #2, you will see that during the time period from July 1996 through March 2001, 1487 children left legal custody with 588 or 39% of these children returning to their own homes. 

Q. Under what circumstances is a county department of social services able to remove children from a home in another county?

A. In situations where there are concerns that children are not being adequately cared for, or are in need of assistance due to lack of proper care, supervision, or discipline, DSS is authorized by state law to use whatever resources are necessary to protect children and provide care. If a family resides in, or is found in, a particular county and subsequently leaves the county without care being provided, causing the children to remain at risk, DSS can and does use outside resources to locate the children to ensure that needs are met. Social Service Departments throughout the state use an "alert system" and/or law enforcement to assist when a family or parent flees with a child who is deemed at risk. DSS can and often does seek judicial authority if it becomes necessary to involve another county. Judges have authority throughout the state. When a judge signs a non-secure order and authorizes removal, then that local DSS is authorized to remove children when and where found throughout the state.

Q. If parents are poor, does this constitute neglect?

A. Neglect is broadly defined by the state of North Carolina. Neglect is defined as a juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker; or who has been abandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical or remedial care; or who lives in a environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of the law. It is not the fact of being in poverty that is the issue, no more than a parent being a substance abuser would be. Substance abuse of a parent, standing alone, is insufficient to deem a juvenile to be neglected, just as poverty would be. However, when substance abuse causes the juvenile not to receive proper care, as previously defined, then the juvenile is neglected. Any other similar situation, activity, or circumstance that would cause the juvenile not to receive proper care, supervision, etc. could mean the juvenile would be deemed neglected. This would also include poverty. The focus is always on the care or lack of care that the juvenile receives. Child neglect represents a breakdown in parenting. All child protection cases are assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine what factors have led to the failure of a parent/caretaker to provide the child with the physical, medical, and emotional necessities that are minimally needed.
Q. If social workers find that a family does not have sufficient food, clothing, beds or other needed day-to-day necessities, would DSS provide these items to the family?

A. Before removal of a juvenile occurs, DSS will make reasonable efforts to provide services to the family. North Carolina defines reasonable efforts as the diligent use of preventive services to maintain the child in the home where doing so will be consistent with maintaining a safe environment; or efforts to return a child home within a reasonable period of time if returning the juvenile is consistent with achieving a safe, permanent home. Reasonable efforts would include providing those services necessary to maintain the home where the caretakers are willing to cooperate with the agency. This would include food, clothing, and other items or services needed to maintain the integrity of the family, but only where doing so would keep the juveniles in a safe environment. However, some parents may refuse this assistance, which could constitute further signs of neglect.  There are several non-governmental agencies in Mecklenburg County that provide similar assistance and DSS can refer parents to those resources if the parents do not wish government assistance.

Q. What is the purpose of the case plan? What are some of the most common case plan activities that parents are given to achieve?

A. State guidelines and standards require case plans to be developed in order to achieve a particular goal in a case. If the goal is reunification, the case plan will address objectives toward reunification. If the goal is adoption, the case plan will address objectives toward adoption. If the case goal is preserving the family, then the case plan will address objectives toward family preservation and reducing risk.

The case plan is developed jointly with the social worker, parent/caretaker, and other necessary parties to identify all actions which must be taken and objectives which must be met in order to achieve the overall case plan goal. Activities are very case-specific and are driven by the risk factors or other objectives that have been identified. The most common examples would deal with substance abuse, domestic violence, proper parenting skills or other issues related to meeting the juvenile's ongoing needs.

Previously posted questions & Answers

Q. What is child protective services?
A. The Youth and Family Services Division (YFS) of the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) is mandated by federal and state law to investigate reports of child abuse, neglect, and dependency, and to provide interventions to reduce risk to children.

Q.Who should I call if I suspect child abuse or neglect?
A.Reporting suspected child abuse, neglect, or dependency is the law. In Mecklenburg County, call the Department of Social Services 24-hour Abuse and Neglect HOTLINE at 704-336-CARE (704-336-2273).

Q. Who can report child abuse or neglect?
A.Anyone who suspects abuse or neglect can and should report it. Referrals can be made by e-mail, telephone, walk-in, mail, or fax. Referring sources can include school personnel, medical personnel, human services providers, neighbors, family members or any other person who suspects that a child has been abused or neglected.

Q.When can the Department of Social Services remove a child from his or her home?
A.When a child protective services social worker has exhausted all efforts to keep children safely in their own home, the facts of the case are discussed with a supervisor and presented to DSS/YFS attorney. A petition outlining the allegations is then presented to a Juvenile Court Judge who makes the decision to authorize removal. North Carolina child protective services is a state-supervised and county-administered Social Services program. Counties in North Carolina do not have unilateral authority to remove children from their parents and their homes and keep them indefinitely. Removal takes place when the juvenile court judge finds conditions legally justify the removal to protect children from harm.
Q.Who investigates child abuse and neglect?
A.Trained social workers investigate referrals for child protective services 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Q.Do you investigate every call?
A.When DSS receives a referral the intake social worker must determine if the allegation meets the NC statutory definitions of abuse, neglect, or dependency. If the allegation does not meet the statutory definitions, an investigation does not take place.

Q.Will I be identified as the person who reported the suspected abuse or neglect?
A.No. The identity of the person who reported the suspected abuse or neglect is protected and kept confidential. However, the exception is in a situation where the judge, for whatever reason, court orders that the identity of the reporter be revealed.

Q.What happens to a child when he or she is removed from the home?
A.When children are removed from their home, they are placed with relatives, if appropriate, or in foster care if no suitable relative is available. Within seven days of DSS taking custody of the children, the court reviews the matter to determine whether the children should remain in the custody of DSS, or whether they should be returned or otherwise placed. If the child is to remain in DSS custody as ordered by the court, further court proceedings take place with all parties represented by legal counsel.

Q.Do you work with parents to regain custody of their children?
A.Yes. The primary goal of the YFS division is family reunification. A case plan is developed with the family to help in this effort.

Q.How do you define abuse or neglect?
A. North Carolina statutes (7B-101) define abuse, neglect and dependency.
· Abuse: Creates or allows to be created a risk of serious physical injury other than accidental means, cruel/grossly inappropriate procedures, sex offenses, and serious emotional damage.
· Neglect: Lack of proper care, supervision or discipline, abandoned child, lack of necessary medical and remedial care as well as environment injurious to child's welfare.
· Dependency: No caretaker responsible for child's care. Parent is unable to provide care and lacks an alternative arrangement.

Q. Why can't you tell me details about a specific case?
A.North Carolina law prohibits the disclosure of specific child protective services information and information contained in individual juvenile court case records, for the protection and privacy of the child. (N.C. Statutes: 7B-302, 108A-80 and 7B-2901).

Q.Who has oversight of the child protective services process and of DSS?
A.North Carolina is a state-supervised and county-administered social services program. The NC Division of Social Services has state oversight, which includes reviews that are conducted on a regular basis. Federal audits are also conducted. Cases involving children in the custody of DSS are reviewed on a regular basis by the court.

Q. What is the role of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners in child protective services?
A. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is also the county's Social Services Board. As such, the Board has general statutory authority under G.S. 108A-9 "to consult with the director of social services about problems relating to his office, and to assist him in planning a budget for the county department of social services."
Also, under G.S. 108A-11, the BOCC/Social Services Board has the right to inspect and examine any record on file in the office of the director relating in any manner to applications for and provisions of public assistance and social services authorized by Chapter 108.

The outcome of child protective services cases falls under the jurisdiction of the courts and not under the legislative jurisdiction of a board of county commissioners, a local social services board, or the State Division of Social Services.

Q. Is there a monetary incentive for DSS/YFS to bring children into custody? 
A. No. The average yearly cost of care for a child in foster care in the County's custody is $10,000. The County DSS estimates it will have 1,500 children in its custody for the year. It costs the County nearly $10 million annually to care for approximately 1,300 children in DSS custody.

Q. Is there a monetary incentive for DSS/YFS to find adoptive homes for children in custody who have been cleared for adoption?
A. The state sets a yearly adoption goal for each County. If a County surpasses its state designated goal, and is able to provide adoptive homes for more of the children in its custody who are cleared for adoption, the federal government provides the County incentive money. The amount is $9,000 for each child adopted beyond the designated goal, and it is  $10,000 for adolescents and for each child in a sibling group. That money must be used strictly for adoptive services, such as recruitment of families.

In FY02, the County received $387,000 in federal adoption incentives.
Q. What is the Adoption and Safe Families Act and how does it affect child protective services?
A. On November 19, 1997, President Clinton signed into law the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. This legislation passed by the Congress establishes unequivocally that the national goals for children in the child welfare system are safety, permanency, and well-being. The law reaffirms the need to forge linkages between the child welfare system and other systems of support for families, as well as between the child welfare system and the courts, to ensure the safety and well-being of children and their families. Key provisions of the law state that the safety of children is the paramount concern that must guide all child welfare services. Foster care is a temporary setting and not a place for children to grow up.

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