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Protective Services

N.C. law requires that local county departments of Social Work 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 do I prevent a Protective Services worker from knocking at my door?

  1. Never, never, never, never, ever shake a baby.
    Shaking a baby can cause permanent brain damage, blindness, even death. Remember, when your baby is crying take a break, don’t shake.
  2. Do not punish your children with switches, belts, hose pipes, fly swatters or electrical cords.
    These things will hurt your child. They will most always leave a mark. If you do chose to spank your child, only do so on their bottom with the open palm of your hand. You do not want to injure the child. Never spank a child when you are angry. Instead, try time out or take away toys, TV, video games, or computer.

    Children do need discipline and limits. Don’t be too wishy-washy, too strict, or too easy. Make sure that you are clear with your child about what you expect from them. Be consistent with your expectations.
  3. Make sure children have appropriate supervision.
    Many terrible things can happen in the space of a few minutes when there is no responsible adult around to respond to an emergency. If you do leave your children with a baby sitter make sure that person will keep them safe. Older children left in charge of younger children should know who to call in case of an emergency. If you must leave your child alone, know your child’s maturing level. Never leave a child 6 or under alone.
  4. Do your best to keep your child clean.
    Make sure your child does not have a bad smell about their body. Other children will make fun of and tease or stay away from children who smell bad. The important thing is to make sure that your child always looks clean and cared for.
  5. Always feed your child.
    If you have a limited income request that your child is placed on the free lunch program at school. You may also be eligible for Food Assistance through Social Work Services. There are many community services available to help you to supply your family with food and to help you prepare balanced meals.
  6. Do not allow anyone to physically harm your child.
    If anyone hurts your child immediately call the police to file a complaint.
  7. Be sure to provide medical and dental care for your children.
    If you have no money for medical or dental care, consult the Social Work Services or the Department of Health about possible sources of assistance. Follow the orders of the doctor or dentist and make sure to give any medicine that is prescribed.
  8. Do not get drunk, take illegal drugs, misuse prescribed drugs, or be involved in any illegal activities in the presence of your children.
    Parents, or anyone else providing care, should always be sober and clear thinking when they are with children. Never give or allow anyone else to give your child drugs or alcohol.
  9. Communicate and be involved with your child’s school.
    Respond to notes that are sent home from the school. The school teacher, principal or guidance counselor should always make to listen to your concerns. Staying involved and in touch with the school supports your child’s education.
  10. Adults should never fight in front of their children.
    There should never be physical fighting in front of the children, around the children, or that the children are aware of. Do your best not to call each other names or verbally argue in front of your children.
  11. Ask for help when you need it.
    Talk to someone you can trust. Call Social Work Services (250-5500) or 211 (252-4357) to find out how to access services that might help you.

How did my family get reported?

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

Why does Social Work Services want to talk with me and my family?

Social Work 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.

Definitions of Abuse, Neglect and Dependency

  • Abused Juveniles - Any juvenile less than 18 years of age whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker:
    1. Creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to the juvenile by other than accidental means; or
    2. Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the juvenile a serious physical injury by other than accidental means; or
    3. Uses or allows to be used upon the juvenile cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or cruel or grossly inappropriate devices to modify behavior; or
    4. Commits, permits, or encourages the commission of a violation of the following laws by, with, or upon the juvenile; first degree rape, as provided in G.S. 14-27.2; second degree rape as provided in G.S. 14-27.3; first degree sexual offense, as provided in G.S. 14-27.4; second degree sexual offense, as provided in G.S. 14-27.5; sexual act by a custodian, as provided in G.S. 14-27.7; crime against nature, as provided in G.S. 14-177; incest, as provided in G.S. 14-178 and 14-179; preparation of obscene photographs, slides or motion pictures of the juvenile, as provided in G.S. 14-190.5; employing or permitting the juvenile to assist in a violation of the obscenity laws as provided in G.S. 14-190.6; dissemination of obscene material to the juvenile as provided in G.S. 14-190.7 and G.S. 14-190.8; displaying or disseminating material harmful to the juvenile as provided in G.S. 14-190.14 and G.S. 14-190.15; first and second degree sexual exploitation of the juvenile as provided in G.S. 14-190.16 and G.S. 14-190.17; promoting the prostitution of the juvenile as provided in G.S. 14-190.18; and taking indecent liberties with the juvenile, as provided in G.S. 14-202.1, regardless of the age of the parties; or
    5. Creates or allows to be created serious emotional damage to the juvenile. Serious emotional damage is evidenced by a juvenile's severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggressive behavior toward himself or others; or
    6. Encourages, directs, or approves of delinquent acts involving moral turpitude committed by the juvenile.
  • Neglected Juvenile - A juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or who has been abandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law. In determining whether a juvenile is a neglected juvenile, it is relevant whether that juvenile lives in a home where another juvenile has died as a result of abuse or neglect or lives in a home where another juvenile has died as a result of suspected abuse or neglect or lives in a home where another juvenile has been subjected to abuse or by an adult who regularly lives in the home.
  • Dependent Juvenile - A juvenile in need of assistance or placement because he has no parent, guardian, or custodian responsible for the juvenile's care or supervision or whose parent, guardian, or custodian, is unable to provide for the care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement.
  • Juvenile - Any person who has not reached the person's eighteenth birthday and is not married, emancipated, or a member of the armed forces of the United States.
  • Caretaker - Any person other than a parent, guardian, or custodian who has responsibility for the health and welfare of a juvenile in a residential setting.

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.

The goal of Buncombe County Health & Human Services 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. For more information see the In Home Services page.

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 Work 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 Work 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 Work Services may ask you to place your child with a relative to avoid custody. For this reason, Social Work 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 Work 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 In-Home 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 30-45 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.

The social worker will meet with you to come up with a Family Services Agreement that meets the goal of assuring children are safe, and allows families to say what services they want to use to reach that goal. The social worker will meet with all members of the household several times a month to offer assistance and assess progress on the agreement. Child and Family teams will also meet to look at progress and determine next steps. When the goals of the agreement are met, the case will be closed. If the goals of the agreement are not met within six months, Social Work Services can file a petition with Juvenile Court alleging abuse or neglect and ask the court to order services.

There are some cases where risk to children is high and no safety planning or services can reasonably protect them. In these cases, Social Work 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.