North Carolina law provides for protective services for children ages birth to 18 years who are allegedly maltreated by a parent or caregiver. The law requires that any person who suspects that a child has been abused or neglected report the case to the local department of social services in the county where the child resides or was located. Reports are taken orally, in writing, or in person. The reporter has immunity from criminal or legal liability if the report is made in good faith. The reporter is encouraged to provide his or her name; however, anonymous calls are accepted.
The Catawba County Child Protection Unit, located at the main social services building in Hickory, NC, is available by telephone 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. A reporter does not have to prove that abuse and neglect has taken place, but has to have reasonable grounds for suspicion. The reporter does not require permission from caregivers to make a report, nor is it required that the caregivers be informed that a report was made.
A social worker and supervisor determine whether the allegations contained in the report meet the legal definition of abuse, neglect, or dependency. The agency has jurisdiction only when the alleged maltreatment falls within legal definitions and was committed or allowed by a parent or caregiver. If the allegations and alleged perpetrator meet these criteria, an investigation is initiated. If a report is not accepted for investigation, the reporter has a right to challenge that decision through an agency review process.
As part of an initiative to reinvent the government, the Board of County Commissioners directed some agencies in the county, including Catawba County Social Services (DSS), to become outcome driven rather than financially driven. This gives the agency greater control over its budget, given it meets the developed outcomes. Between 115 and 120 outcomes have been developed, more than one-half of which are directly related to child welfare. If the agency meets 90 percent of its outcomes, it will be eligible to continue with the initiative.