N.C. law requires that local county departments of social services ensure children's safety in their homes. A child protective services investigative assessment determines whether abuse or neglect has occurred and whether other services may be needed to help the family.
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 investigative 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.
(Please refer to the definitions of abuse, neglect and dependency so you can be familiar with these terms.)
What happens after a report is made?
An investigative 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.
Buncombe County Social Services' goal is to partner with the family and complete investigations 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 investigation?
The investigation and evaluation shall include a visit to the place where the juvenile resides. An investigation 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 investigation 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 an investigation.
For safety reasons, law enforcement officers typically escort social workers after hours and on weekends. Should you choose not to cooperate with an investigation, Social Services may file an obstruction petition so that we may complete the investigation 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 investigation. 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 investigation.
What happens after the investigation?
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 investigation is completed. This should occur within 30 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. Less than 8% of all children who have been substantiated as abused, neglected or dependent are removed from the home.
For a listing of county-wide programs & services offered by Buncombe County Government, please visit our Services for Children section.