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Child Protective Services

Making a Difference

Child Protective Services

Keri Jerrell
Children & Family Services
Program Manager

A Safe Child's Guide for Parents and the Community

Helpful Links
Child Protective Services: Assessments and Investigations

How Did My Family Get Reported?

Any person in North Carolina who suspects that a child is abused, neglected or dependent can report this to the county Social Services. By law, the identity of the reporter is confidential.

Why Does Social Services Want to Talk With Me and My Family?

Social Services is required by law to conduct an assessment when there is an allegation that a child is abused, neglected or dependent. This means that a social worker needs to meet with you and your family to determine if the allegations are true and if your child is safe.

What Happens After a Report Is Made?

An assessment must be prompt and thorough to determine if protective services should be provided or the complaint filed as a petition in Juvenile Court. If the allegations include abuse, written notification must be made to the District Attorney and law enforcement to coordinate the investigative process. Alexander County Social Services' goal is to partner with the family and complete assessments as quickly as possible without Court intervention unless your child cannot be protected. It is important to us that all different types of families are respected and that there is a broad range of lifestyles and parenting practices that provide safety and minimally sufficient care for children in our community.

What Is Involved With an Assessment?

The assessment shall include a visit to the place where the juvenile resides. An assessments means that a social worker looks at the environmental, medical, physical, mental health, educational, and emotional needs that keep children safe. Other people with helpful information may be contacted for their input. Family input, resources and safety planning are very important in keeping children safe. Your cooperation and consent for the social worker to come into your home for the assessment helps this process. It is our goal to keep children safe and families together whenever possible.

Can I Refuse to Let the Social Worker Into My Home?

You must give permission for a social worker to enter your home. Social workers will show their identification and clearly explain why they wish to speak with you. They will tell you about the allegations and the process of the assessment. For safety reasons, law enforcement officers will sometimes escort social workers after hours and on weekends. Should you choose not to cooperate with an assessment, Social Services may file an obstruction petition so that we may complete the assessment as required by law. If an obstruction petition is filed, a Court hearing will be scheduled no less than five days after the parent or caretaker is served with the petition and summons. Our goal is to respect your rights and work with you to make sure your child is safe. Social Services must comply with the law to ensure that children in our community are safe and provided with minimally sufficient care. We will work with you to assess family strengths, needs and supportive resources that are part of safety planning.

What Is the Purpose of the Safety Assessment?

The Safety Assessment is completed when the social worker first makes contact with the family. This form outlines safety issues and a plan to keep children safe during the assessment. Often there are no safety factors that make it necessary to develop a safety response. If needed, the social worker will discuss with you any safety factors present and ask for your input in making a plan that is specific and detailed. There may be family members or other supportive people who can help be part of safety planning for your child. You have the opportunity to include your comments and your participation is important in developing this plan. We believe that most families are capable of finding solutions that can preserve their family while making child safety a priority. It is our job to work with families and their supports to achieve these solutions.

What Does It Mean to Place My Children With a Relative or Other Caregiver?

When the risk to your child is high and other means to protect are not reasonable, Social Services may ask you to place your child with a relative to avoid custody. For this reason, Social Services always asks about relatives or friends who could provide care for your child. State policy requires that a kinship assessment be completed in these cases, as well as a criminal background and child abuse/neglect check. These placements can help avoid custody and give the parents an opportunity to address any safety issues needed to return the child home. These placements are intended to be short-term and can occur during the investigative process or while Social Services is providing services after an assessments.

What Happens After the Assessments?

If abuse, neglect or dependency allegations are found to be true, then the agency provides services to the family with child safety as the goal. You will be notified in writing of the case decision once the assessment is completed. This should occur within 30 to 45 days unless the social worker is unable to gather the needed information in that time frame. A case decision of substantiation or in need of services means that there are safety and risk factors that could result in children being removed from the home without services to protect the child. There are some cases where risk to children is high and no safety planning or services can reasonably protect them. In these cases, Social Services can file a petition with Juvenile Court alleging abuse, neglect or dependency or ask the Court to protect the child by removal from the home. Bringing a child into foster care is used only as a last resort to protect children from serious harm. Reasonable efforts to keep children safely at home are first attempted, along with relative or kin placement if needed. We believe that children have the right to safety, basic care and to remain with their families whenever possible.

Statutes and Policies related to Child Protective Services

Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, report it!
Every adult in North Carolina has a legal obligation to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Child abuse rarely stops without intervention. By reporting suspected child abuse or neglect, you can help a family get the help they need. Abused children may carry the trauma of abuse throughout their lives unless treatment, assistance and support are provided. Our children are counting on you to act!

How to report child abuse or neglect:
In North Carolina, protective services are provided by the local department of social services for children from birth to age 18 who are suspected of being abused or neglected by a parent or caretaker. If you make a report, you are immune from criminal or legal liability if the report is made in good faith. You may make a report anonymously, but you are encouraged to provide your name and contact information in case additional information is needed later.

To report suspected abuse/neglect, you do not need to have proof, but you do need to have reasonable grounds for suspicion. You do not need permission from the child's caregivers.

You may make a report of suspected child abuse/neglect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., you may contact the Alexander County Department of Social Services at (828)632-1080. After normal business hours, weekends, and holidays, you may contact the Alexander County Sheriff's Office at (828)632-4658, and ask to speak with the social worker on call. You may also make a report by mail or in person. The Child Protection Unit is located at 604 7th St. SW, Taylorsville, NC 28681

What information do you need to make a report?

  • Name, address and age of the child(ren)
  • Name and address of the child's parent, guardian or caretaker
  • The child's condition, including the history, nature and extent of the injury of maltreatment
  • Information known about the family that could affect the safety of the child, and perhaps the safety of a social worker.

What Are Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect?

Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Physical Abuse:
  • Unexplained bruises of various color, size, and in various locations
  • Bruises in areas not normally subjected to bruising, such as on the face, non-bony areas of the arms, legs, and/or torso
  • Welts, human bites, bald spots
  • Unexplained burns, especially cigarette burns or scald burns
  • Unexplained fractures, injuries or abrasions
  • Child is nervous, hyperactive, aggressive, and exhibits disruptive and destructive behaviors
  • Child is unusually wary of physical contact
  • Child is unduly frightened of parent or caretaker
  • Child expresses little or no emotion when hurt
  • Child is unusually shy, withdrawn, or passive
  • Child's clothing consistently inappropriate for weather

Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Sexual Abuse:

  • Irritation around the genitals or rectum, or an abnormal discharge
  • Unexplained, recurring urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • Increased, obsessive masturbation
  • Enuresis and encopresis (wetting and soiling)
  • Play activities which have sexual activity that is not appropriate for the child's age
  • Engages in on-going sexual activity that is not appropriate for the child's age
  • Child has detailed and sophisticated understanding of sexual behaviors
  • Presence of venereal disease
  • Child exhibits delinquent or aggressive behavior or excessive temper tantrums
  • Child shows signs of depression
  • Compulsive stealing, lying, and destructive behaviors
  • Child displays self-injurious behaviors like substance abuse, self mutilation, attempts suicide, prostitution and running away

Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Child Neglect:

  • Abandonment by parent or caregiver
  • Unattended medical needs
  • Consistent lack of or inadequate supervision
  • Consistent hunger, inappropriate dress, poor hygiene
  • Exposure to injurious environment such as domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, mental illness
  • Child has poor social skills
  • Child appears pale, listless
  • Child begs or steals food
  • Frequent school absences
  • Child regularly displays fatigue
  • Child exhibits self destructive behavior
  • Child has injuries or fears stemming from home environment
  • Child frequently displays extreme attention-seeking behavior

Contributory Factors to Neglect and Abuse

While maltreating parents/caretakers share many characteristics with members of the general population, there are patterns of behaviors and family dynamics which are predictors and indicators of child abuse and neglect. The following is a list of characteristics which are commonly present in maltreating families:

  • Tend to be socially isolated and have no social support system
  • Parents have low self-esteem
  • Parents have distorted ideas regarding the child
  • Have little knowledge about child development
  • Have unrealistic expectations of the child
  • Lack means of controlling child's behavior through alternative methods to corporal discipline
  • Inability to empathize (view the world from the point of the child)
  • Have difficulty in building trusting relationships
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Tend to be immature and dependent
  • Use of alcohol and/or substances
  • Domestic violence
  • Inadequate family income and/or sporadic employment history
  • Inadequate housing
  • Unstable living conditions (transient or frequent moves)
  • Limited intellectual functioning
  • Family history of child neglect or abuse
  • Poor household management
  • Poor understanding of role of parent
  • Poor communication within the family
  • Non-responsive to emotional needs of the child
  • Child who is developmentally delayed and/or has behavior problems

What happens after a report is made?
The allegations in the report will be screened to see if they meet the legal definition of abuse, neglect, or dependency. The department has jurisdiction only when the alleged mistreatment falls within legal definitions and was committed or allowed by the parent or caretaker. If the allegations and alleged perpetrator meet these criteria, an investigation is begun. If a report is not accepted for investigation/assessment, the person reporting the abuse has a right to challenge this decision through an agency review process.

When does the investigation begin?
A social worker begins an investigation within 24 hours when abuse is alleged. Investigations involving allegations of neglect posing no immediate risk to the child will begin within 72 hours. The target date for completion of an investigation is 30-45 days after the report is received. If the investigation shows that abuse/neglect has occurred, and if the family cannot correct the problem, they will continue to receive services from Child Protective Services.

CPS In Home Services

If an investigation/assessment finds that abuse/neglect has occurred, and if the cause of the mistreatment cannot be corrected by the family, the family will continue to receive Child Protective Services.

What Happens During in Home Family Services?

The family and the social worker participate in identifying the problems and creating a plan with specific activities to correct the problems. This is called a Family Services Case Plan. This plan is reviewed and updated at least every three months.

  • The social worker will have direct contact with all family members regularly, sometimes about twice a month, but often more frequently than that. The frequency may vary depending on the family's needs and the level of risk to the child.
  • The social worker provides case management services to the family. This involves referring children and families to a variety of resources. The case manager will also make sure the family can access services and will monitor the effectiveness of these services.
  • Most of these services are provided either in the home or community. Home visits can be made in the early evening so that work and school schedules are not interrupted.
  • A family usually receives services for six months to a year. Length of service depends on how quickly the problem leading to the mistreatment of the child can be corrected and the risk to the child reduced.
  • If a family is unable to correct the problem that led to the mistreatment and the child remains at risk, or Social Services is unable to ensure the safety of the child in the home, the agency will file a petition with the court.
  • When a petition is filed, the agency must show the court that reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the child's safety at home.
  • The court may decide to place the child in Social Services custody and in foster care or may decide to leave the child at home and order the parents to follow the Family Services Case Plan.