Department of Social Services is Knocking on My Door!

Girl outsideWhat do you do when Child Protective Services comes knocking at your door?

First of all, assess your position. Remain reasonable and calm, and know that anything you say or do may later be used to either help or harm you. Less talk and more listening may be best course of action until you have legal representation. You should know what has been alleged against you. South Carolina Code Section 62-7-20 delineates those requirements.

“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.

As much as you want to strike out at the CPS caseworker or removing law enforcement officer, DON’T!

Stop. Breathe. You will not win the argument if you come out fighting. But if you remain reasonably calm, you might be able to convince the caseworker that it’s not a DSS child abuse or neglect case and that removal is not the proper action.

Here are some examples:

Suppose a person attacks your child at a public park. Is this child abuse or neglect? Who is the aggressor?

  • 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 on several levels–physical abuse for striking the child and emotional abuse for exposing the child to criminal domestic violence. But is removal of the child called for in this case?
  • Example #2: Same scenario, but the aggressor is the child’s biological father, but 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. Is removal of the child called for in this case?
  • 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, the grandfather would be a person responsible for the child’s welfare if the abuse arose in the home, because homeowners are responsible for the welfare of invitees (and tenants). Does this theory carry over to the park?

Are there grounds for removal in these instances?

The answer to all three is, “It depends.” It depends on the situation. If the aggressor, as defined above, was responding in self defense after mother attacked him first, the law enforcement would probably take the child into emergency protective custody because the mother instigated the violence which resulted in the child’s injuries. She is herself an accessory to the abuse and exposing the child to criminal domestic violence.

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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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