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Investigations of Abuse/Neglect

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 and is compelled by law to 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.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. Is every call/report investigated?

A:  When DSS receives a referral the intake social worker and supervisor 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.How do you define abuse or neglect?

A: North Carolina General 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.  An abused child is one whose parent, guardian, caretaker or custodian inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child a serious physical injury by other than accidental means; creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of serious physical injury by other than accidental means; uses or allows to be used upon the juvenile cruel or grossly inappropriate devices to modify behavior; or commits, permits or encourages the commission of a violation of any of the sex offense laws of the state by with or upon the juvenile, or creates serious emotional damage.
· Neglect: a parent, guardian, custodian, caretaker who does not provide proper care, supervision or discipline; has abandoned the child or does not provide necessary medical or remedial care or if the juvenile resides in an environment injurious to child's welfare.
· Dependency: a child in need of assistance with placement because the child has no parent guardian or custodian responsible for his care or supervision or whose parent guardian, custodian is unable to provide for the care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative plan.

Q:  What are some examples of what a DSS social worker can and cannot do as part of an investigation of child abuse, neglect an/or dependency?

A:  A DSS social worker can:
· Talk to your child alone, or without your permission
· Talk with you after talking with your child
· Talk with collateral people, for example family members, school personnel, neighbors, or anyone with knowledge of the care of the child
· Ask a perpetrator, if one is identified, to leave the home if the child remains in the home
· Provide reasonable efforts to keep the family together safely. Reasonable efforts include offering food, clothing, help with rent payment and referrals to community-based programs such as mental health services and medical care.

A DSS social worker cannot:
· Remove your child without evidence of maltreatment
· Remove your child without a court order, unless there is imminent risk of harm
· Reveal the identity of the reporter or complainant, unless ordered by a judge
· Violate the family's confidentiality by speaking publicly about case specifics

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

A: Neglect is defined as a child who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the 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.  As one can see, neglect is broadly defined by the state of North Carolina. Being in poverty is not the issue anymore 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 child not to receive proper care, as previously defined, then the child is neglected. Any other similar situation, activity, or circumstance that would cause the child not to receive proper care, supervision, etc. could mean the child would be deemed neglected. This, of course, would also include poverty. The focus is always on the care or lack of care that the child 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. The state of 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 time if returning the child 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 providing these services. 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.

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