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Courts


Q:  How can anyone prove allegations of child abuse, neglect and/or dependency if there is no proof?

A:  When DSS investigates allegations of abuse/neglect/dependency, DSS gathers evidence to prove its case if court becomes an option. Evidence may be direct or indirect. Many times parents will deny the evidence and if the matter ends up in court DSS will present the evidence before the judge.  Clearly if there is no evidence or proof of abuse, neglect or dependency, the judge will dismiss the matter.  DSS presents the case and facts to meet the burden of proof.  If DSS found no proof to support the allegations after it began its initial investigation from the referral, then it too, would close the case without further action. In all cases, there must be sufficient evidence of child abuse, neglect or dependency to warrant intervention by DSS and/or the courts regarding the custody of the child.

Q:  When a parent is charged with not being fit to take care of their children and their children are taken away from them, but can't afford help, what is provided for them?

A:  Children are removed from their homes only when abuse, neglect or dependency are substantiated and when the risk level is such that the children cannot remain safely in the home or the parents refuse to cooperate with DSS to reduce the risk.  Services such as food, clothing, furniture, medical care, transportation, heat, and many other services are provided by DSS, depending upon the family's needs.

Q:   Why wouldn't a County DSS contact another counties DSS if they found that a family that was supposed to be under investigation in the original county had moved, in order to have the second counties DSS do its own investigation as to whether or not there was a problem?

A:  Counties cooperate in situations where parents under investigation have fled a jurisdiction.  If the allegations are reported as having occurred in the jurisdiction of one county, the other county would have no jurisdiction to investigate the allegations.  The second county could only investigate allegations that are reported as having occurred within that county. 

Q:   Why does the system not involve a jury to prove the parents' guilt before the permanent severance of rights?  Why are parents not given the same rights as criminals?  What happened to the constitution?

A:   Juvenile Court focuses on children and not parents.  Proceedings in Juvenile Court are civil and not criminal, therefore guilt is not an issue and not something determined by this Court.  The issue is for the judge to decide what is in the best interests of the child.  In Juvenile Court, the law calls for the judge to be the authority and make the decisions, rather than a jury, which are used in both civic and criminal courts.  

Q:  If the parents cannot afford representation, why are they not provided help by the system? 

A:  Every parent whose whereabouts are known is automatically appointed an attorney upon the filing of a petition.

Q:   When is a Guardian Ad Litem appointed to children at risk?

A:   Guardian ad Litems are appointed when a petition is filed in any abuse and neglect cases, and at the discretion of the court and approval of the Guardian ad Litem's Office in dependency cases.

Q:   Why can DSS workers make ANY unsubstantiated claims against the parents, and the children are taken out of the home, based on those claims, WITH NO PROOF, just their word?   There should be true and accurate supporting documentation of the allegations.   Made up allegations should not be enough to get children removed.   Why aren't the DSS workers held accountable for false allegations against the parents?  They have seemingly unlimited power without anyone looking over their shoulders, and can make any claims at all.

A.  DSS receives referrals of abuse, neglect and/or dependency from concerned citizens as mandated by law.  DSS investigates the referrals by visiting the home, speaking to the parents, reviewing any other documents as necessary, as well as speaking to collateral sources.  Based upon the investigation, DSS determines whether the allegations as reported should or should not be substantiated.  In the cases where petitions are filed with the court, the judge, not DSS, makes decisions concerning the outcome of the case based upon evidence from all parties involved, which includes the parents.  In cases that are substantiated and the children can remain at home safely, DSS will maintain the child in the home and provide services to the family to reduce the level of risk for the child. 

Q:  Why aren't parents told what their rights are and what to expect moving through the DSS system, as when to give their side of the story? 

A:  The court provides legal counsel to represent the parents in cases where children are removed. It is up to the parents' attorneys to advise them as to the presentation of their case and their legal rights.  The judge explains in detail what the court expects the parents to do to reunify the parents with their children.

Q:   What recourse do parents have if they have an incompetent court-appointed lawyer that gives them wrong advise about going through the court system and when to present their side of the case?

A:  Parents who are not satisfied with their legal representation can inform the court of this dissatisfaction and request a different attorney be appointed.  The judge then decides whether or not a different attorney is appointed.  Complaints of incompetent legal counsel can be addressed to the North Carolina State Bar.

Q:   Why is one of the fastest ways of getting the children back, for the parents to say they are guilty of DSS accusations, even if they aren't guilty?

A:  Juvenile Court proceedings are civil and not criminal, and therefore guilt is not at issue.  Parents are not asked or expected to admit anything that is not true.

Q:   How is anyone supposed to produce evidence of wrongdoing when records are sealed and gag orders are in place?

A:  Records are sealed from members of the general public who are not parties in the case.  This is to protect the privacy of the children.  Parties in the case can produce evidence at any court hearing.

Q:   What recourse do parents have when DSS makes unsubstantiated, unproved charges against them?  

A:  Parents are at liberty to present evidence to the court to refute the position of the DSS and of the Guardian at Litem at any hearing.  Also, parents have the option of filing an appeal regarding decisions made by the judge in their case.  Their attorney would advise the parents about the validity of any possible appeal.



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