Reasons to Contact Child Protective Services
Child Protective Services (CPS) exists to ensure that all children have a permanent home in which they are safe and can be appropriately nurtured. Their job is to check on children whose situations may be unsafe and remove them from homes in which they are being neglected or abused. CPS works to protect children from all types of abuse or neglect, including mental, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They also help protect children who do not have a parent or guardian who can care for them, as well as those who have a parent or guardian that is unable to provide appropriate care.
Contacting CPS is a difficult decision and one that should not be taken lightly. Doing so sets off a chain of events that can take months to run its course. That said, if you ever believe that a child is in danger or is being abused, you have a duty under North Carolina law to report the abuse to CPS. This article will discuss when and why you should contact CPS as well as how to do so.
When to File a Report with Child Protective Services
Before you file a report, it is important to understand the difference between abuse and neglect, as defined by NC family law. Abuse refers to the intentional mistreatment of a child (in any way, shape, or form) whereas neglect refers to a failure to properly care for a child. Regardless of whether it is abuse, neglect, or both, this is an experience no child should have to go through. Children often cannot advocate for themselves which is why, as an adult, it is your responsibility to do so for them.
The following are signs that a child is actively being abused or neglected. If you notice any of these signs, and especially if you notice several at the same time, North Carolina child protection laws require that you contact CPS to file a report.
Signs a Child is Being Physically Abused
- Unexplained bruises or marks, particularly in fleshy areas of the body that aren’t easily visible
- Self-destructive or self-harming behaviors
- Unexplained burns, fractures, or abrasions
- The presence of other unexplained injuries, like welts, bite marks, scratches, bald spots, or black eyes
- Nervous, hyperactive, aggressive, or disruptive behaviors
- Shrinking away from physical contact, especially by adults
- Lacking expressed emotion
- Fearful of parents or guardians
- Coming to school/activities early, staying late, and/or reluctancy to go home
- Speaking about injuries inflicted by a parent or guardian
Signs a Child is Being Sexually Abused
- Displaying sexual behavior or knowledge that is not appropriate for their age
- Exhibiting self-harm in the form of substance abuse, self-mutilation, or dangerous sexual acts
- Reverting to child-like behaviors such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking
- Disrupted or inconsistent sleep patterns
- Bruising, pain, itching, or bleeding in the genital region
- Presenting with sexually transmitted diseases, UTIs, or yeast infections
- Aggressive behavior
- Exhibiting signs of depression
Signs a Child is Being Emotionally Abused
- Delayed physical or emotional development
- The presence of speech disorders
- Unusually passive, antisocial, or dissociated behavior
- Unusually aggressive, demanding, or angry behavior
- Sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Physical ailments like ulcers, asthma, or allergies
- Mental ailments like depression or suicidal thoughts/tendencies
- Unusually attention-seeking
- Overly compliant/overachieving
- Habit disorders, like thumb sucking, rocking, or skin picking
Signs a Child is Being Neglected
- Medical needs or injuries that have not been cared for, even after being brought to the parent or guardian’s attention
- Reported abandonment by a parent or guardian
- Excessive fatigue
- Lack of supervision at home
- Poor social skills
- Excessive hunger
- Inappropriate dress and/or hygiene habits
- Lice, malnutrition, rashes, etc.
- Frequent absences from school
- Self-destructive behavior
Signs a Parent or Guardian is Abusive or Neglectful
- Show’s little concern for the child’s physical or emotional health
- Doesn’t show up to school events or meetings
- Doesn’t answer phone calls, messages, or emails from the child’s school
- Blames the child for school issues
- Uses harsh, physical discipline with the child or encourages others to do so
- Expresses sentiments that the child is worthless or burdensome
- Demands perfection of the child
- Ignores the existence of physical injuries, or provides an unconvincing or limited explanation for injuries
- Abuses substances like drugs or alcohol
- Has a personal history of being abused or neglected as a child
How to Report Child Abuse in North Carolina
As mentioned above, North Carolina has a mandatory child abuse reporting law that requires anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it to the appropriate authorities. You may report the abuse or neglect anonymously, though you must consider that it may be in the child’s best interest for CPS to be able to contact you.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect is occurring, take the following steps to report it:
- File a report with the Department of Social Services in the district where the child resides. You can find your county’s department of social services by clicking here. If you are actively witnessing abuse or neglect that is putting the child in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
- Once you’ve located your nearest department of social services, file a report. This can typically be done either in person, via telephone, in writing, or online.
- Provide as much information as possible. The more information you can provide, the better, including your contact information. You should also include things like the child’s address, their name and age, their parents’ names and ages, injuries they may be suffering from, and any other information that could help CPS.
What Happens After You File a Report with Child Protective Services
After you file a report with CPS, assuming you choose not to remain anonymous, they will likely come to interview you. They will also visit the child, their parents, their teachers, and any other individuals who may have information regarding the situation. The more honest information you can provide, the more likely it is the child will be able to be adequately protected. After a report is received, CPS may do any of the following:
- Conduct interviews with the child, parents, and other individuals to assess the suspected case of abuse or neglect
- Request that a physical and/or mental examination be conducted by a medical professional
- Discuss the allegations of abuse or neglect to the family
- If abuse or neglect is not present, CPS may help the family find resources for solving mental, physical, or behavior issues
- If abuse is present, CPS will work to provide counseling and supportive services for the family, either in-home or through an agency
- If needed, CPS will petition for the removal of the child from the home in question
What Happens When a Child is Placed in CPS Custody
A child is rarely removed from the home. In most cases, CPS will do whatever they can to avoid disrupting a family unit, including creating a service plan, offering counseling services, and conducting regular home visits. However, if the child is determined to be in immediate danger, CPS may remove the child and place them in protective custody.
Once a child is in the custody of CPS, they are typically placed into the care of a relative or foster family. For parents or guardians to regain custody, they must follow the reunification plan that will be laid out by the court. These plans may include things like rehab, drug testing, or anger management classes. During this time, the parents or guardians will likely be granted periodic, supervised visitations with the child. After a predetermined period, the case will typically be revisited to determine whether the parents/guardians have complied with the court-mandated plan and whether the child can safely return to the home.
What to Do if You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect
If you are concerned for the safety of a child or have questions about a potential Child Protective Services report, contact our family law attorneys at Mulligan Attorneys, to discuss the grounds for a Child Protective Services report by calling 910-763-1100.
You can also contact North Carolina Child Protective Services, the North Carolina Department of Health and Huma Services, or call the ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline by calling 1-800-422-4453.