Department of Social Services (DSS) Basics

DSS Child Protective Services (CPS) cannot take your children without a court order.  But a law enforcement officer can remove your child IF he makes an independent determination that there is probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect the child’s life, health, or physical safety is in substantial and imminent danger if the child is not taken into emergency protective custody, AND there is not time to apply for a court order.

“Child abuse or neglect” or “harm” occurs when the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare commits certain acts or fails to provide certain basic needs of daily living, such as food, shelter, clothing and health and education services.

A “person responsible for the child’s welfare” includes the child’s parent, guardian, foster parent or an adult who has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child, but who does not necessarily have legal custody of the child.  Note that a mere caregiver whose contact is only incidental with a child, such as a babysitter (including, perhaps, a grandparent), has not assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian.

Example #1:    Divorced Mother with sole legal custody takes child to a local playground after school.  Father, who has been exercising regular scheduled visitation with the child, shows up.  The ensuing argument escalates and he slaps at Mother, but accidently hits child.  This is child abuse by father on several levels – physical abuse for striking the child and emotional abuse for exposing the child to criminal domestic violence.

Example #2:    Same scenario, but the aggressor is the child’s biological father who has never been told by Mother of the birth and has no knowledge that he is the father and is totally unknown to the child.  This is also child abuse by definition. He is a parent.

Example #3:    Same scenario, but the aggressor is the child’s grandfather.  This is not child abuse by definition.  However, if the child and the mother live with her parents and the abuse arose in the home, the grandfather would be a person responsible for the child’s welfare because homeowners are responsible for the welfare of invitees (and tenants).

Important principles of child protective services:

  1. Parents have the primary responsibility for and are the primary resource for their children.
  2. Children should have the opportunity to grow up in a family unit if at all possible.
  3. State and community agencies have a responsibility to implement prevention programs aimed at identifying high risk families and to provide supportive intervention to reduce occurrence of maltreatment.
  4. Services for families should be accessible and designed to encourage and enable families to adequately deal with their problems within their own family system.
  5. All child welfare intervention by the State has as its primary goal the welfare and safety of the child.
  6. Child welfare intervention into a family’s life should be structured so as to avoid a child’s entry into the protective service and foster care systems if at all possible.

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