Child custody is often thought of as involving parents and the family court. In many cases, however, custody crosses paths with Department of Social Services (DSS) investigations. If they threaten to or do take custody of your children, you will need dedicated legal advocacy. You should also understand what to know if DSS investigates you. Trust Greenville Family Law to protect your parental rights.
Why and how DSS might contact you
Anyone who believes your child has been hurt can notify DSS about it. If they are made aware of potential child abuse or neglect, or even allegations of it, a caseworker will investigate. Abuse can include physical, sexual, or mental abuse. Meanwhile, neglect can mean failure to provide for a child’s basic needs.
If upon investigating the allegations the DSS believes abuse or neglect could have happened, it may contact law enforcement. From their perspective, the goal is to prevent further harm to the child. This doesn’t prove that you, the parent, have done anything wrong. But they will act out of an abundance of caution to protect the child.
DSS or law enforcement may interview your child. It may also interview other children living with you, relatives, neighbors, and others. You should receive a call from the caseworker at the start of the investigation. But if the caseworker believes your child may be harmed, he or she might take more forceful action. This could include taking custody of your child.
Will DSS take my child?
This is a question that likely every parent who has ever been contacted by DSS has thought about. And the answer is that it depends on the allegations involved. If DSS or law enforcement believes there’s an emergency situation threatening your child, your child may be taken. And this can be done without a court hearing. If they do not believe such a situation exists, a hearing will still probably take place (more on that below).
An emergency situation includes:
- Serious danger posed to the safety of the child by abuse or neglect
- The custodial parent is arrested and no one else can care for the child
- Your child is lost, needs to be with an adult, but you cannot be located
If your child is taken, he or she will be temporarily placed with a foster home or shelter. Your child will not be sent to jail, as some people believe. They will notify you where the child is unless it considers it unsafe to tell you.
What if a court hearing is scheduled?
If DSS schedules a court hearing, you should speak right away with an attorney. Your lawyer can explain your rights and what to expect at a hearing.
At the hearing, there will likely be what is known as a GAL (guardian ad litem). This person advocates for the child’s interests. The GAL will present a report about the child with recommendations for what the court should do. The DSS will have its own attorney, and you should have one too. You may need to testify about the allegations against you. Meanwhile, they will have their own witnesses who testify about the abuse or neglect charges.
It is possible to settle your case with the DSS. This means a plan is put in place to address their concerns about your child. The judge will still need to approve this plan. On the other hand, the judge could decide on more drastic measures to protect the child.
Having Legal Representation Is Essential
It is strongly advised that you have an attorney at all stages of a DSS investigation and hearing. Your very rights as a parent could be in jeopardy. Often, cases overlap with ongoing child custody cases in family court. Our child custody lawyers can advise as to your rights and represent your best interests in family court. To learn more about DSS cases, or to speak with a child custody lawyer, call Greenville Family Law today.