Can the Department of Social Services Delegate Investigation to Third Parties?

DSS delegation to third partiesI recently had a case where DSS referred my clients to Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC) to see if it could meet with the family in order to determine if there were any services which CYDC might offer to the family.  CYDC stressed that it was not conducting an investigation, and told my clients they could refuse to accept services, but their refusal would be reported to DSS who could file a legal (court) case against them.

I called the county DSS attorney who confirmed that DSS might or might not take further action if services were refused.  Fortunately, there was no evidence of child neglect in this case.  CYCD visited the home and interviewed two character witnesses identified by the family.  CYDC was able to close the case within a week of the home visit without concern or recommendation for further services. But this chain of events concerns me.

So why am I so concerned about this process? 

Because I believe DSS was on the verge of violating the law in that it delegated its legal responsibility without proper authorization.  My advice is if anyone other than law enforcement comes knocking, LOCK THE DOOR AND SEND THEM AWAY.

DSS is mandated by statute to conduct an investigation to determine whether a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is “indicated” or “unfounded” within 24 hours of receiving a report of suspected child abuse or neglect.  There is no provision I am aware of allowing DSS to delegate this responsibility to another agency or organization.

Furthermore, S.C. Code § 63-7-1990(A) makes it clear it is a criminal offense to disseminate or permit the dissemination of information contained in the reports of child abuse or neglect.  By referring the reports to CYDC in lieu of an investigation, I believe DSS is violating this section, as well.

Here is what could have happened legally and what I believe that DSS was attempting to do:

  • DSS, when it made the referral to CYDC had already screened out the report of abuse/neglect.
  • DSS then made a referral to CYDC to INQUIRE (not investigate) whether the family needed assistance from any outside source.
  • CYDC could assist the family by informing the family of any resources available, such as counseling, financial assistance or whatever, and helping the family apply for any services needed.
  • If the family refused to cooperate with CYDC’s inquiry, DSS could not reopen the case without new allegations of abuse or neglect; DSS had already screened the original report and ruled out abuse or neglect.  HOWEVER, if CYDC discovered new evidence of abuse or neglect, DSS could consider this a new report and open a new case on the family.

Bottom line? 

There are many organizations in the community not directly associated with the government or DSS to which DSS can make a referral and which could, in the course of “helping” the family, find an area of concern to cause a new report to be made to DSS.

But once DSS has its opportunity to investigate an allegation of child abuse or neglect and screened the report out, DO NOT allow a third party such as CYDC to come into your home. Seek legal counsel immediately.

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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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