South Carolina’s Department of Social Services (DSS) describes its mission as ”promoting the safety, permanency, and well-being of children.” To accomplish this mission, DSS investigates reports of abuse and neglect.
DSS’s process focuses on the well-being of the child. This means that DSS will give weight to the child’s interest in staying in the home when the child is safe. But it also means that DSS will begin proceedings to remove the child or impose other restrictions on the parents if DSS believes the child is in danger.
Below are some considerations for parents facing a possible DSS action.
When DSS receives a credible report of abuse or neglect, it must start investigating within 24 hours. This protects your child. But it also gives you very little time to prepare.
One way to stay on top of an investigation is to contact a family law attorney as soon as you suspect someone may file a report with DSS. For example, a report can result from complex family issues such as a contentious divorce. Talking to a family lawyer can help you get ahead of an investigation and secure a better outcome for you and your child.
A family lawyer can explain the process so you can prepare for the investigation. A lawyer can also counsel you about how to handle contact with DSS. Remember that DSS can use anything you say against you in the investigation or proceeding. Most importantly, an experienced family law attorney can help you develop a DSS defense strategy.
Developing a DSS Defense
If DSS opens an investigation, an investigator will interview you, your child, and any witnesses who might know about the alleged abuse or neglect. The investigator can also review documents, like medical, police, and school records.
In developing your defense, you should always stick to the truth. Any inconsistency will reflect poorly on you, especially if contrary evidence shows you lied.
You should consider the reason someone reported your situation to DSS. If a report resulted from a false accusation, act of revenge, or misunderstanding, you should gather evidence to support your side of the story. If you and your family law attorney present your evidence at the investigation phase, the investigator might close your file without any further action.
If someone accurately reported what happened between you and your child, you will need to explain what happened and help the investigator reach a fair outcome. Thus, if someone reported seeing you yelling in your child’s face, you should explain what led to that confrontation. More importantly, you should propose a safety plan, like anger management or parenting classes, to reduce the chances of a recurrence. This could help you avoid more severe remedies like the removal of the child from your home.
Having Someone on Your Side
One underrated but important role a lawyer plays is standing beside you through a difficult proceeding.
Your lawyer can provide advice based on experience with DSS and knowledge of family law. They can also represent you during an interview with DSS to minimize the risk that you say something to damage your case.
And if DSS takes further action, like forwarding a report to the police and seeking to remove the child from your home, a family law attorney can protect your legal rights.
To discuss your DSS defense to a report of abuse or neglect, contact Bleecker Family Law for a consultation.