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Abuse, Neglect, & Dependency

Child Protective Services strives to ensure safe, permanent, nurturing families for children by protecting them from abuse and neglect while attempting to preserve the family unit. Child Protective Services helps prevent further harm to children from physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or neglect by a person responsible for a child’s care.

Child Protective Services also helps protect children who have no parent, guardian, or custodian to provide care and supervision, or whose parents or guardians or custodians are unable to provide for the care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement.

The New Hanover County Department of Social Services uses a strength-based, family centered approach when working with families.

North Carolina General Statute (NC GS 7B-101) defines what is child abuse and child neglect.
Physical Abuse is defined as any child younger than 18 whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver:

  • Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child a serious physical injury by other than accidental means
  • Creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of serious physical injury to the child by other than accidental means
  • Uses or allows to be used upon the child cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures or cruel and grossly inappropriate devices to modify behavior

Sexual Abuse is defined as any child younger than 18 whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver commits, permits, or encourages the commission of a violation of the following laws regarding sexual offenses by, with, or upon the child:

  • First and second degree rape or sexual offense
  • Rape of a child by an adult offender
  • Sexual act by a custodian
  • Crime against nature or incest
  • Preparation of obscene photographs, slides, or motion pictures of the child
  • Employing or permitting the child to assist in a violation of the obscenity laws
  • Dissemination of obscene material to the child
  • Displaying or disseminating material harmful to the child
  • First and second degree sexual exploitation of the child
  • Promoting the prostitution of the child
  • Taking indecent liberties with the child

Emotional Abuse is defined by any child younger than 18 years whose parent, guardian, custodian, or caregivers creates or allows to be created serious emotional damage to the child. Serious emotional damage is evidenced by a child’s severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior toward himself or others.

Neglect is defined by any child younger than 18:

  • Who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from his or her parent, guardian, custodian, or caregiver
  • Who is not provided necessary medical or remedial care
  • Who lives in an environment injurious to his or her welfare
  • Who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law

The following may indicate the presence of child abuse or neglect. There are many reasons a child may not want to go home on a particular day or may be overly compliant when they are trying to please a favorite teacher or trusted adult. However, when you have a cluster of two or more of these, this should raise a red flag to at least talk to the child and or parent, or potentially call your Child Protective Services, depending on the circumstances. It is important to remember that issues related solely to poverty are not considered child maltreatment issues.  

For the child:  

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance  
  • Displays overt sexualized behavior or exhibits sexual knowledge that is inconsistent with their age  
  • Has not received medical attention for a physical injury that has been brought to the parents’ attention  
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes  
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen  
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible  
  • Comes to school early, stays late and does not want to go home  
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes  
  • Has bruises or marks in non-prominent, “fleshy” areas of the body (for example, inside of biceps or behind the knees)  
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school  
  • Seems frightened of their parents/caregivers and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school  
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults  
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver 

For the parent or other caregiver:  

  • Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school’s requests for information, conferences or home visits  
  • Denies the existence of or blames the child for problems in school or at home  
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves  
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome  
  • Demands perfection, or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve  
  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation for the child’s injury  
  • Describes the child as “evil” or in some other very negative way  
  • Is abusing alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs, and that abuse is having an adverse impact on the child  
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child  
  • Has a history of abuse as a child  

North Carolina law requires that anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected must report his or her concerns to the Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services. Anyone can make a report of child abuse and/or child neglect by calling, writing, or visiting the Child Protective Services Unit at the New Hanover County Department of Social Services. You can make a child abuse or neglect report 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The child abuse hotline number is (910) 798-3420. If you need to make a report after 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or on the weekend, or a holiday please call 911 and ask to speak to the social worker on duty.

Our office is located at 1650 Greenfield Street, Wilmington, NC, 28402.

The social worker taking your report will listen to your concerns and document all the information that is given. You do not have to have proof that a child is being abused or neglected, just a reasonable suspicion. Reporters of child abuse and neglect are protected by the law. Social workers are unable to release the name of the reporter to anyone, unless ordered by the Court. Although you can make a report anonymously, it is helpful to provide your name in case the social worker needs to follow up with you for additional information. It is helpful to have the following information when making a child protective services report:

  • Name, address, and age of the child/children
  • Name and address of the child’s parents or caretakers
  • The child’s condition, including any injuries or extent of the maltreatment
  • Any information about weapons in the home, alcohol, or drug abuse

Even if you do not have all of the above information, do not hesitate to make a report if you believe a child is being abused or neglected. All citizens in North Carolina have a legal obligation to make a child protective services report if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected.

Every child abuse, neglect, and or dependency report that is made to the Department is documented and screened to determine if the allegations meet the legal definition of abuse, neglect, or dependency.  The Department can only accept reports that are made against a child’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker.  If the Department receives a report that meets the criteria of abuse, neglect, or dependency, but it is not against the parents, guardian, custodian, or caretaker, the report is then referred to the appropriate law enforcement entity. If the report does not meet criteria for abuse, neglect, or dependency the Department documents the reasons it does not and the person who made the report will receive a letter.  If the allegations meet criteria, then a formal assessment is begun.

Once a report of child abuse, neglect, or dependency has been accepted by the Department, it is then assigned to a social worker to complete an assessment. There are two types of approaches to completing assessments. When the report alleges any type of abuse or serious neglect, it is assigned as an investigative assessment. This is a more forensic approach with families. On abuse cases, the social worker typically has to respond and interview the child and parents or caretakers immediately or within 24 hours of the allegations being reported to the Department. The social worker will work closely with law enforcement during the investigative assessment. When the report alleges neglect, it is assigned as a family assessment. The social worker typically has 72 hours from the time the report is made to the Department to respond to the family. In family assessments, the social worker typically calls the family first to inform them the Department received a report and meets and talks to the family together.

Regardless of whether the report is accepted as an investigative assessment or a family assessment, our most important responsibility in working with families is ensuring that children are safe. In all cases, we develop safety plans with families that identify any safety issues that may be present for the children and make a plan with the family to reduce the risk to the children. All assessments include the social worker observing the environment where the child resides and assessing the child’s medical, physical, mental health, educational, and emotional needs. Family input, accessing community and family resources, and safety planning are very important in keeping children safe. The family’s cooperation and consent is critical and helps in this process. Our goals are always to keep children safe and keep families together whenever possible.

At the conclusion of our assessments, the Department makes a finding of whether or not abuse, neglect or dependency is present and if continued services through the Department are needed to ensure the safety of the children.

If abuse or neglect, as defined by North Carolina law, is not found, the child protective services case is closed. Child Protective Services would not have further involvement unless another report was received by the Department and screened in for an assessment.

If abuse or neglect, as defined by North Carolina law, is found, the case is then typically transferred to another social worker to work with the family to resolve the issues that led to the abuse and/or neglect. The primary concern continues to be the child’s safety and protection. Once a substantiation or finding of services needed is made, then the Department provides what we call CPS In-Home Services. These are legally mandated services and they are considered involuntary services. These are the most intensive services and contacts with the family that is provided by the Department. The goal is to maintain the children safely in the family home. The social worker works with the family to determine what activities need to be completed to reduce risk to the children and ensure safety. One strategy we use in working with families is setting up Child and Family Team Meetings. The goal of these meetings is to assist the family and their support system in making a safe plan for their children. The CPS In-Home social worker coordinates interventions and services that focus on child safety and protection and family preservation. The Department is responsible for making reasonable efforts to maintain the child safely in the home and our goal is always to keep families together, but when safety in the child’s own home cannot be assured, the Department is mandated to take immediate action to protect the child. This sometimes leads to placing children outside of the home or in the Department’s custody and into foster care. Bringing a child into foster care is used only as a last resort to protect children from serious harm. To place a child into foster care, the Department must file a petition with Juvenile Court alleging abuse, neglect, or dependency.

Social Services: 1650 Greenfield Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-3500 • Fax 910-798-7824
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