Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and answers, about child welfare, child safety laws, child protection, foster care and adoption. 

What age can a child be left alone in NC?

In most cases, it depends on the maturity and skills of the child.  In NC, the only statewide law with a specific age restriction is the NC Fire Code, which states that a child under the age of eight cannot be left alone unsupervised.  For additional guidelines and tips, go to the Is Your Child Ready to Stay Home Alone guide by the NC Pediatric Society. 

I heard that a mother can leave her baby with someone if she does not want him/her. Is that legal?

Babies up to seven days old may be left legally with a responsible adult under NC’s Safe Surrender Law
If the mother does not want to give identifying information, she does not need to do so.
More Information about Women in Crisis 

I used drugs or alcohol while I was pregnant. Does that mean DSS will take my baby?

Not necessarily. It depends on whether or not the infant is being hurt and the parents are able to care for the child.  If a newborn infant is born addicted to substances, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol, then the local DSS office (in Wake County, it is Wake County Health & Human Services) is notified and the family is referred to Care Coordination for Children. This agency will link them to services that will help the mother, child, and the rest of the family.  Services may include referrals to food assistance, health care and substance abuse treatment.

My family was reported for abuse or neglect. What happens now?

If your family was reported to child protective services, then you may receive a phone call from a social worker to set up an in-person interview with you, your household members, and your children or, depending on how severe the abuse is, a visit from a social worker.  During an in-person visit, you will be asked for the names and contact information of other persons who may have information about your children.  The social worker may need to review medical or other records and may request medical assessments be completed.  

Your assigned social worker will work with you to complete the assessment and ensure you have a written response of the decision. If services are needed to assure child safety, the social worker will involve you and the people you identify to support you in decision making and work to help the child stay safely at home whenever possible.  

More information about What Happens When My Family is Reported.

I lost my rights as a parent. Can I get them back?

Yes, in certain circumstances.  The child must be at least 12 years old (or, if under 12, demonstrate extraordinary circumstances), have no adoptive parent, and the lapse of time since the termination of parental rights is at least three years.  See NC Law (7B-1114)

Can I make an anonymous abuse or neglect report? I do not want the family to retaliate against me.

Yes, you can make an anonymous abuse or neglect report.  However, if you choose not to give your contact information, then you will not receive a notice about the outcome of the report, including whether the report met criteria for abuse/neglect, the name of the social worker, the process for requesting a review of the decision, and a statement about whether report was referred to law enforcement.   

All information about a reporter of child abuse and neglect is kept confidential. The family is not told the identity of the reporter. 

I found out that my grandchild’s family was reported for abuse and neglect. What can I do?

All families need support and help, particularly those involved with child abuse and neglect. Reach out to them to offer your help, without judgment or blame. There are many ways to help your grandchild: 

  • Provide a safe, temporary home for your grandchild while his/her parents get the services they need. 
  • Provide babysitting help at times to give the parents rest and time to care for themselves. 
  • Provide financial support during a difficult time. 
  • Attend meetings with the parents - they can be overwhelming and scary for families who are afraid of losing their children.  Having another adult in the meeting who loves and supports them will help lessen their fear. 
  • Take your grandchild and his/her parents on fun visits to museums, parks, lakes, restaurants, or other activities they enjoy. Doing fun things together reduces stress. 
  • Introduce them to other families you know and trust to help provide support.