The Department of Social Services (DSS) is a government agency with many functions under state law. The agency’s role in family law cases primarily encompasses two main parts: abuse and neglect, and child support. Whether you have been accused of neglect or abuse or you suspect that your child is suffering at the hands of their other parent, it is crucial that you understand the role that DSS plays within the court system and what you can do to act in the best interests of your child. This is where a qualified family law lawyer can help.
Here are some of the things that you should know when dealing with DSS:
DSS Abuse and Neglect
DSS is statutorily required to investigate reports of abuse and neglect of children. Every case begins with the initial report (typically a phone call) wherein an investigative caseworker is assigned and given 45 days to interview and compile evidence to determine if abuse and/or neglect has occurred. Either the child(ren) will be able to reside with the parent, relatives or friends, or they will be removed from the home and placed into foster care. These first 45 days are extremely important and retaining an attorney experienced with DSS laws and policy is vital to setting the tone of a case. If the child(ren) is placed into in foster care, the action immediately triggers a court action with a very short notice window to parents and possible caregivers, which can be overwhelming in an already stressful time.
At the conclusion of the 45-day investigation period, DSS will either indicate the case (similar to a charge. For example: physical abuse) or they will unfound it (finding no abuse or neglect). The whole purpose of the agency is to identify the risk of harm to the children, identify the ways to remove the risk, help to remove the risk, and then once the risk has been removed, to return the children to the person(s) they were removed from. An attorney can help speed this process along, hopefully preventing the potential removal in the first place, or at the least return the children as quickly as possible. Additionally, an attorney can help formalize a custody arrangement placing the children with a relative or close family friend, otherwise known as fictive kin, to keep the children out of foster care.
Courts Are Tasked with Acting in the Child’s Best Interests
South Carolina family courts do not take child neglect and abuse lightly, and the state code related to these issues is incredibly complex. That is why it is so important to work with a qualified family law attorney. Although family courts may find that it is in the best interests of a child to continue to have relationships with both parents, their job is to err on the side of protecting children. When children are found to be in a harmful situation, you should expect courts to be cautious in their approach.
It is easy to panic when DSS shows up at your door to investigate allegations of neglect or abuse, especially if they take a child or children out of the home for their health, safety, and/or protection. However, the best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to remain calm and contact a qualified family law attorney immediately.
DSS Child Support
DSS handles all child support related cases where the parent does not file a private action to pursue this relief. This can be difficult due to the large number of cases that they have, and often you will find yourself waiting in a long line for your turn with a judge. Attorneys can also speed this process along and even help negotiate a child support award.
Protecting Your Children in Complicated Custody Disputes
In the course of a separation or divorce, it is not uncommon for complex family issues to come to a head. This could result in dangerous or abusive behavior toward children by the other parent, or where a parent will coach a child into making an allegation. If you suspect neglect or abuse is taking place, it is important that you report it to DSS or law enforcement. To report suspected or known child abuse in South Carolina, you can submit your claim on the SC Department of Social Services website. If there is no proof of abuse and/or neglect of a child, and the allegations are shown to be a result of coaching by one parent, the party subject to the false allegations may have an action for malicious reporting.
Whenever DSS becomes involved, it is wise to consult with a family law attorney throughout the process. While DSS conducts its investigation, you need to make sure that you do everything possible to prepare for any outcome: what to do if it is determined that no neglect or abuse is taking place, what treatment services are offered by the agency, or the steps to take if the children are removed from the home. A qualified lawyer will provide the information and advice that you need to make decisions that will protect you and your children from harm.
Defending Yourself Against Claims of Neglect or Abuse
If DSS does contact you with claims of neglect or abuse, you should contact a qualified lawyer immediately. Legal advice and ongoing support will give you the best opportunity to defend yourself against false claims, or alternatively, to get the help you need to stop the cycle of abuse and regain the right to visitation or custody.
DSS is not your enemy. Their job is to ensure the health and safety of children in the community, which is what all parents want for their children. Whether you suspect another parent is engaged in neglect or abuse or you have been visited by DSS, you need a qualified family law attorney on your side.
Contact the compassionate and experienced team at Bleecker Family Law today at 843-571-2725 or visit us online to request a consultation and learn more about the ways that we can help you.