What Options Does DSS Have?

Child

South Carolina Department of Social Services has three options once it finds probable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.

First, in a relatively minor infraction, such as excessive corporal punishment, it can offer in-home services without court involvement by way of a safety plan.  The safety plan is essentially a contract between DSS and the parents whereby the parents agree to comply with a treatment plan, and DSS allows the children to remain in the home.  The safety plan expires by law in six months.  The treatment plan must be reasonable in scope and the parents must complete the plan within the six months allowed.

Second, DSS may petition the family court for authority to intervene and provide protective services without removal of custody, if the department determines by a preponderance of evidence that the child is an abused or neglected child and that the child cannot be protected from harm without intervention.  In the example above, if the treatment plan is not successfully completed within six months, DSS should file for intervention.  In an intervention action, the child remains in the home of the defendant caregiver, but the plan is now court-ordered, opening the door for a contempt action if the parents still fail to cooperate and complete the plan.  There are also other circumstances which may lend themselves to intervention.  South Carolina Code §63-7-1650 (Services without removal).

Third, DSS may petition the family court to remove the child from custody of the parent if the department determines by a preponderance of evidence that the child is an abused or neglected child and that the child cannot be protected from unreasonable risk of harm without removal.  South Carolina Code §63-7-1660 (Services with removal).  A failure to comply with the TP in the previous paragraph may cause DSS to file for removal.

Before the court can order intervention and protective services, it must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the child is an abused or neglected child and the child cannot be protected from further harm without intervention. South Carolina Code §63-7-1650.

Before the court can order a child removed from the custody of the parent, it must find by a preponderance of evidence that the child is an abused or neglected child and that retention of the child in or return of the child to the home would place the child at unreasonable risk of harm, and the child cannot reasonably be protected from this harm without being removed. South Carolina Code §63-7-1660.

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Written by

Graves H. Wilson, Jr. worked as a staff attorney for the South Carolina Department of Social Services in Dorchester County, South Carolina from 2005 to 2011. He now represents clients involved in DSS cases--parents, grandparents, or other interested parties. He practices state-wide and accepts cases in all South Carolina counties.

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