South Carolina Department of Social Services - what is it? And what does it do?
DSS has many core programs and services. Probably the ones more familiar to the general public are the financial assistance programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), the protective services programs, Adult (APS) and Child (CPS), and child support enforcement.
I suspect that my neighbor is abusing her child, but if I make a report to DSS, will she retaliate?
The identity of the person making a report of suspected child abuse or neglect to any agency, such as law enforcement or DSS, must be kept confidential by the agency receiving the report and may only be disclosed in special circumstances. It is a crime to reveal the name of the reporter. While there are exceptions, these exceptions are not significant to this discussion and will be discussed more fully in a separate post.
What should I do when DSS knocks on my door and accuses me of child abuse?
Try to remain calm and rational. This may be the hardest thing that you will ever have to do. But doing so will set the tone for events to follow and could help your case. Fighting with law enforcment or DSS will only hurt your case.It is imperative to keep control, stay reasonable, and know that anything you say or do may later be used against you. Less talk and more listening is usually the best course of action until you are represented by an attorney. Don't risk making matters worse for yourself or your child.
What authority does DSS have to insert itself in my life in the first place?
In spite of what you may have heard, DSS has no inherent authority to take a child from his parents. Nor does it go cruising, looking for children to snatch. The agency is already stretched to its limit with children in foster care.
Then why do I hear horror stories about DSS taking children from their parents?
Confidential reports of suspected child abuse or neglect are investigated by a DSS worker who determines if further action is warranted. If DSS then believes that by reason of abuse or neglect the child's life, health, or physical safety is in substantial and imminent danger, DSS must apply to the local Family Court for a court order ordering the child into DSS custody. If the danger to the child is such that there is no time to apply for a court order, a law enforcement officer will be called to the scene. The officer on the scene must make an independent decision that removal is indicated and take the child into emergency protective custody.
Does DSS have to take my child from me?
It depends on several factors. First, who is actually accused of child abuse? Are there alternative placement options? Can you and the child move away from the abuser? Also, before the department assumes legal custody, it shall make reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child. Such reasonable efforts should at least include offering services which relate to the needs of the family and attempting to place the child with a relative known to the child or in another familiar environment.
What happens after removal?
DSS is required to hold a hearing in family court to determine if there was probable cause to remove the child. The probable cause hearing must be held within 72 hours of the removal, excluding weekends and holidays. If DSS can show probable cause, a low threshold, the court must order the child into the "physical and legal custody of DSS." If DSS cannot show probable cause, the family court must order the child returned home. But that doesn't mean that DSS has to leave you alone or that the case is dismissed. DSS will still continue to seek a finding by the court that the child was abused or neglected.
Will my child be placed for adoption?
The child cannot be adopted unless the parental rights have been terminated by the court. That requires a failure on the part of the family to correct the problem which caused the removal and is only done as a last resort. A knowledgeable attorney can help make sure that the requirements for reunification are reasonably designed to promote reunification and assist you in meeting complying with the requirements in a timely manner.
Why does DSS try to have parents' parental rights terminated?
Except in cases of extreme abuse or neglect (for example: sexual abuse or abuse resulting in severe injury to the child or death of a sibling), DSS will first propose a treatment plan reasonably designed to promote rehabilitation and reunification. If the plan fails and the child is in a foster home, DSS will file a separate action to terminate the parental rights (TPR) and free the child for adoption. REMEMBER, TPR is not automatic. The court must find that TPR is appropriate in any given case.
What is the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect?
The Department of Social Services must maintain a Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect (Central Registry) within the department's child protective services unit which lists perpetrators of child abuse and neglect whose entry has been ordered by the court. Each entry in the registry must be accompanied by information further identifying the person including, but not limited to, the person's date of birth, address, and any other identifying characteristics, and describing the abuse or neglect committed by the person.
Is it true that my name will be entered into the Central Registry?
If the court orders that your child be taken or retained in custody or finds that the child was abused or neglected, the court must order that a person's name be entered in the Central Registry if the court finds that there is a preponderance of evidence that the person physically or sexually abused or wilfully or recklessly neglected the child. Placement on the Central Registry cannot be waived by any party or by the court. However, if the only form of physical abuse that is found by the court is excessive corporal punishment, the court may order that your name be entered in the Central Registry if you would present a significant risk of abusing or neglecting a child if you were in a position or setting outside of your home that involves care of or substantial contact with children, such as a daycare worker, a coach or a scoutmaster.
The court ordered me into the Central Registry. Will I lose my job?
Well, maybe. Just as the identity of the person making a report of suspected child abuse or neglect must be kept confidential, all reports made and information collected and maintained by the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect are confidential. A person who disseminates or permits the dissemination of these records and the information contained in these records except as authorized in this section, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than one thousand five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. But an employer can ask you to voluntarily reveal if you are on the Central Registry, if your employment involves working with children.