Where to report suspected child abuse or neglect
Whether a mandatory reporter makes the report to the Department of Social Services or to law enforcement depends upon the identity of the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect, according to The Children’s Law Center.
When the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect is the child’s parent, guardian, or a person responsible for the child’s welfare, mandated reporters must report to the county DSS office or to law enforcement in the county where the child resides or is found.
When the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect is not the child’s parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare, the law requires that a report be made to law enforcement.
All law enforcement officers are authorized to exercise emergency protective custody to protect a child who might be in imminent and substantial danger. However, only the law enforcement agency where the incident occurred has the authority to conduct an investigation.
When you make a report, you will be asked to provide information
This information may include:
- The reason for reporting
- The child’s name and name of other siblings living in the household
- Present location of the child
- The suspected perpetrator’s name (if known)
- A description of what you have seen or heard including the date of occurrence, your observations and witnesses to the abuse
- Any agencies that you know that are already involved with the family
- Your name and phone number (can be anonymous)
You may report anonymously if you wish. Under South Carolina law, names of reporters are kept confidential. Families reported for abuse or neglect cannot obtain the names of reporters. Although you may make your report anonymously, only reporters who identity can be confirmed are entitled to notification of the investigation’s outcome. However, your information will not be revealed to the family or individuals involved in the report.
Tips for reporting
- Make the report as soon as possible after receiving the information that causes you to suspect abuse or neglect.
- Do not wait for proof. The law requires you to report when you have reason to believe abuse or neglect has occurred.
- Do not try to investigate yourself or excessively question the child. Ask only basis questions, such as what happened, who did it and where did it happen. Leave the investigation for professionally trained caseworkers or law enforcement officers. You can request notification of the investigations’ outcome if you wish.
- If you are a mandated reporter under S.C. law, you must personally report information you receive to DSS or law enforcement. Notifying your supervisor does not satisfy your legal requirement to report.
- Document the name of the person you reported to at DSS or law enforcement; the date and time of your report; the information you reported; any disclosures made by the child, in his own words if possible; and the child’s demeanor at the time of disclosure.
What happens after I make a report?
Assuming the incident has happened in a family home, your report will be taken by DSS hotline staff. The screening process begins and the following additional steps will be taken:
- Decisions are made by the court or a team of staff based on statutory and policy guidelines.
- The intake worker refers for investigation if the report involved a child under 18, the suspected perpetrator is a parent, guardian or person responsible for the child, and the information meets the statutory definition of abuse or neglect.
- The assessment worker will investigate within a few hours to a few days, depending on the potential severity of the situation. The assessment worker will speak with the child, the parents and other people in contact with the child (such as doctors, teachers, or child care providers). The purpose for the investigation is to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred and if it may happen again.
- If the assessment work feels the children are at risk of harm, the family will be referred to services to reduce the risk of re-occurrence. These may include mental health care, medical care, parenting skills classes, employment assistance and concrete support such as financial or housing assistance.
- In severe cases, when a child’s safety cannot be ensured, the child will be removed from the home and temporarily placed with relatives or in foster care. Home studies are conducted to determine whether the placement is in compliance with state standards and safety can be ensured. A court-ordered treatment plan is put into place the parents’ compliance monitored. If the court determines that the children may be safety maintained in the home, the children will be returned to their parents.
For more information
- South Carolina’s definition of child abuse and neglect
- South Carolina State House
- Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services