Articles Tagged with Department of Social Services

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What is a DSS investigation?

            The Code of Maryland Regulations (“COMAR”), Sec. 07.02.07.00, et seq. codifies the process by which the local Department of Social Services (“DSS”) is to investigate allegations of child abuse and/or neglect, as well as the subsequent findings that may be reached at the end of any investigation. Said findings may be contested directly to DSS and/or to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

 

What happens during a DSS investigation into child abuse and/or neglect?

            Within 24 hours of receiving a report of suspected child abuse and/or neglect, the local DSS will initiate an on-site investigation of the reported location. During an investigation, the local DSS will first assess the immediate safety and risk of maltreatment of the alleged victim and of the children who are household or family members of the alleged victim or in the care/custody of the alleged maltreator.

            The DSS will then make an initial judgment as to whether the alleged child abuse and/or neglect is apparent, and determine what services, if any, are appropriate, and make referrals as necessary. These services could include but are not limited to:

  • a hospital stay,
  • shelter care,
  • processing the children through “Children In Need of Assistance”,
  • or voluntary placement, as appropriate.

            Once the child(ren) has been secured, DSS will attempt to determine the identity of the maltreator. To this end, they will work to obtain information from the reporting source, parents, other relatives, community members, and other community resources such as schools, hospitals, clinics, or law enforcement agencies. DSS may then conduct interviews with both the alleged maltreator and the alleged victim(s).

           

How long does it take DSS to investigate? What happens when a DSS is completed?

            The local DSS will attempt to complete the above investigation within 10 days of receiving the initial report, and if additional time is required due to additional circumstances, they will move to complete the investigation within 60 days. When a local department completes an investigation, they will classify it as either indicated, unsubstantiated, or ruled out.

 

What does it mean if the results of a DSS investigation are “Indicated,” and can that finding be disputed?

            A DSS investigation may result in a finding of Indicated (1) Child Physical Abuse, (2) Child Sexual Abuse, (3) Child Abuse with Mental Injury, (4) Child Neglect, and/or (5) Child Neglect with Mental Injury. The aforementioned means that DSS had credible evidence (that was not satisfactorily refuted) that specific elements were determined to be present concerning the alleged:

  • child abuse,
  • sexual abuse,
  • child abuse with mental injury,
  • child neglect, and/or
  • child neglect with mental injury.

The specific elements are codified in COMAR, Sec. 07.02.07.11 and Sec. 07.02.07.12.           

           Within sixty (60) days from receipt of DSS’s finding of Indicated child abuse and/or neglect, an appeal may be taken directly to the Office of Administrative Hearings, and a hearing will be scheduled before an Administrative Law Judge.

            At that hearing, evidence and witnesses may be presented to challenge the accuracy of DSS’s finding, and should DSS fail to present sufficient evidence to support its finding of Indicated child abuse and/or neglect, the ALJ may change the finding to Ruled Out or Unsubstantiated. If the ALJ does not find in the appellant’s favor, the appellant may appeal to the respective Circuit Court of Maryland. The appeal process for Indicated findings is codified in COMAR, Sec. 07.02.26.05.

 

What does it mean if the results of a DSS investigation are “Unsubstantiated,” and can that finding be disputed?

            A DSS investigation may result in a finding of Unsubstantiated (1) Child Abuse, and/or (2) Child Neglect, if there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of Indicated or Ruled Out.  A finding of Unsubstantiated may be based on insufficient evidence that supports one or more elements of indicated child abuse and/or neglect, or refutes one or more elements of child abuse and/or neglect. Additional bases for a finding of Unsubstantiated child abuse and/or neglect are also codified in COMAR, Sec. 07.02.07.11 and Sec. 07.02.07.12.

            Within sixty (60) days from receipt of DSS’s finding of Unsubstantiated child abuse or neglect, a conference may be requested directly with the local DSS.  The conference will be set within ten (10) days of receipt of the conference request. The conference shall be attended by the appellant and the local DSS supervisor, at which time the appellant will have the opportunity to review DSS’s record, and supplement accordingly.

            After the conference, DSS shall have 10 days to submit a written summary of the conference, including whether DSS will modify its finding of Unsubstantiated.  If DSS does not agree to modify its Unsubstantiated finding, the appellant, within sixty (60) days, may file an appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings, as outlined above.  The conference and hearing process for Unsubstantiated findings are codified in COMAR, Sec. 07.02.26.08 and Sec. 07.02.26.09.

 

What does it mean if the results of a DSS investigation are “Ruled Out?”

            A DSS investigation may result in a finding of Ruled Out if DSS finds that the child abuse and/or neglect did not occur. Such a finding may be based on a lack of credible evidence supporting or refuting one or more element of indicated child abuse, or that the injury was an accident. Additional bases for a finding of Ruled Out child abuse and/or neglect are also codified in COMAR, Sec. 07.02.07.11 and Sec. 07.02.07.12.

 

How long does DSS retain findings of Indicated, Unsubstantiated and/or Ruled Out Child Abuse and/or Neglect?

            DSS will not expunge the records related to an investigation resulting in an Indicated finding. In Unsubstantiated findings, DSS shall expunge the records related to an investigation after five (5) years of receiving the report, and in Ruled Out findings, expunge the records after two (2) years of receiving the report.

            Navigating a DSS investigation and subsequent conference or appeal can be a difficult and stressful process.  If you are currently involved in a DSS investigation or have already received a finding of Indicated or Unsubstantiated child abuse and/or neglect from DSS, we encourage you to speak to our experienced family law department who can assist with navigating this process from start to finish.

 

Monica L. Scherer, Esq.

mscherer@silvermanthompson.com

(410) 385-2225

 

Joseph S. Stephan, Esq.

jstephan@silvermanthompson.com

(410) 385-2225

 

Erin D. Brooks, Esq.

ebrooks@silvermanthompson.com

(410) 385-2225

 

 

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