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Social Services

Minimum Standards of Care for children

Swain County Department of Social Services

Minimum Standards of Care

Related to NC General Statutes

Regarding Child Abuse, Neglect and Dependency

Minimum standards of care have been developed as a general guide to assist staff in evaluating safety and protection issues for children who receive services from our Children’s Services Unit.  These standards are based on North Carolina General Statutes that define abuse, neglect, and dependency (GS 7B-101 (1) (13) (7)).  If a family is providing minimum care for their children and there are no identifiable protection issues that can be specifically related to the General Statutes, this agency will not be involved with a family unless they voluntarily request services.

It must be acknowledged that in the majority of situations where minimum care is not being provided, protection issues will be identified and this agency will be involved with the family on a non-voluntary basis.  However, it is reasonable to assume that due to the complex nature of some protective services issues, there may be exceptions to this rule.

Abuse, neglect, and dependency issues must be viewed within the context of total family dynamics and how parental behaviors and interactions impact on the safety of the child.  In order to determine if minimum care is being provided, standards should not be considered in isolation, but in conjunction with each other.  Therefore, in determining if a neglectful situation exists, a total assessment including issues of proper care, discipline, environment injurious, etc. will need to be evaluated.

It is important to recognize that decisions regarding abuse, neglect, and dependency are the responsibility of the Department of Social Services.  Input from other agencies, professionals, and individuals is encouraged.  DSS evaluates this information; makes a determination concerning minimum care; and relates the findings to the North Carolina General Statutes and State policy. After this information is collected and carefully assessed, an agency decision is made concerning the need for protection and intervention.

It is also important to understand that while DSS and Law Enforcement, at times, conduct joint investigations, the case decision made by DSS is not made in conjunction with any actions taken or not taken by Law Enforcement or the District Attorney's office.  A decision that a child is or is not "in need of protection"  is a separate issue from whether or not a parent or caretaker is charged with a crime.  The need for protection and criminal charges are governed by different legal mandates.

While this material may be useful in better understanding "minimum care,” North Carolina General Statute 7B-302 states that "any person or institution who has cause to suspect that any juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent shall report the case of that juvenile to the Department of Social Services in the county where the juvenile resides or is found."



G.S. 7B-101 (13)-  "A Juvenile Who Does Not Receive Proper Care, Supervision, or Discipline from the Juvenile’s Parent, Guardian, Custodian, or Caretaker; or Who Has Been Abandoned; or Who Is Not Provided Necessary Medical Care; or Who is Not Provided Necessary Remedial Care; or Who Lives in an Environment Injurious to the Juvenile’s Welfare; or Who Has Been Placed for Care or Adoption in Violation of Law.  In Determining Whether a Juvenile Is a Neglected Juvenile, it Is Relevant Whether That Juvenile Lives in a Home Where Another Juvenile Has Been Subjected to Abuse or Neglect by an Adult Who Regularly Lives in the Home.”

PROPER CARE (for medical neglect see pg. 5):

NUTRITION-Parent or caretaker provides or arranges for sufficient food for child so that growth and development are normal and diet prevents malnourishment, dehydration or any other condition requiring medical attention.  There is no pattern of withholding food or water as a regular means of discipline.

CLOTHING-Parent or caretaker attempts to provide reasonably clean and serviceable clothing to protect child from the elements and health hazards.

HYGIENE-Child’s hygiene does not create a condition requiring medical attention or treatment for documented emotional problems.  Parent or caretaker attempts to provide instruction on hygiene and to provide necessary items for hygiene (water, soap, etc.).  Issues concerning head lice are not accepted as Child Protective Services reports. The presence of lice is a situation addressed by the Health Department.

CLOTHING- Poverty is not a reason to intervene; handled by parents, community agencies.

DIRTY HOME-Child's welfare must not be at substantial risk of harm; handled by family, community agencies, and landlords.

SHELTER – Parent or caretaker provides housing, emergency shelter or makes alternative arrangements if homeless.  Parent or caretaker ensures child is safe and protected from the elements. (Will also consider allegations under Environment Injurious)

ELECTRICITY-Poverty is not a reason to intervene. Parent is providing minimally for child; handled by family, community agencies

EDUCATION-The school system is responsible for enforcing the Compulsory School Attendance Law.  DSS intervention is possible, at the discretion of the director or his designee, after school efforts have proven ineffective to ensure child’s school attendance.  This does not apply to children who willfully refuse to attend school despite efforts by their parent/caretaker.

PARENTING- Child continues to receive minimum levels of care despite physical, mental, emotional or behavioral problems of their parent or caretaker.  If a parent or caretaker is unable to provide proper care for the child, parent or caretaker has made arrangements with a caretaker who is willing and able to provide proper care at least at a minimal level.  The parent or caretaker continues to act in a parental role and provides support for the child or has made arrangements for the child to be legally secure with an alternate caretaker.  Parents are willing to provide a home for their adolescent who refuses to return home. Parents have a responsibility to set limitations and rules for their adolescent that is not neglectful or abusive in nature.  Therefore, the adolescent’s willingness to abide by parental rules may be a condition for the adolescent to return home. 

Children birth through age 5 are constantly supervised in the home and frequently supervised while outside in a safe play area.

Children ages 6—8 are not regularly left alone for more than a few minutes.

Children ages 9—10 are not regularly left alone no longer than one hour and are not responsible for supervising younger children.

 Children ages 11—13 are not regularly left alone for more than eight to nine hours and are not left alone to supervise younger children for more than a few hours (one to three).  The supervising child is responsible, mature, has access to emergency plans (neighbor, relative, parent, 911); can verbalize how to deal with an emergency; discuss child care for infants or young children (meals, rules, safety); can discuss what they would do if a stranger asked to come into the home; are not fearful of being alone; or overwhelmed by child care responsibilities.

 At ages 14—17 children/youth can supervise other children if they are responsible, mature have access to emergency plans (neighbor, relative, parent, 911); can verbalize how to deal with an emergency; discuss child care for infants or young children (meals, rules, safety); can discuss what they would do if a stranger asked to come into the home; are not fearful of being alone; or overwhelmed by child care responsibilities.  Some children in this age group should be able to stay by themselves for extended periods of time, be unsupervised or engage in social activities provided they are responsible, have access to an identified adult and do not become involved or are not involved in delinquent or undisciplined behaviors.

Parent or caretaker has taken appropriate actions to address delinquent and/or undisciplined behaviors but the child is refusing to cooperate with their efforts and the efforts of the agencies involved.

Children ten and above can usually supervise themselves outside but parent or caretaker is generally aware of their whereabouts.

Parent or caretaker obtains substitute child care providers who are responsible and provide proper care for the child.  Parent or caretaker has a definite plan for duration of the substitute care, arranges for essential needs for the child, provides emergency contacts and if absence is to be extended, maintains contact with the child. 

Parent or caretaker is aware of sibling children engaged in sexual activity and has taken protective measures.

Sexual exploration, sexual play, or sexual activity of the child is age-appropriate. (Age of consent in North Carolina is 16 years of age but does not pertain to adult relatives).  

Standards of Care for Children, Supervision Page 2

Social Services Home


Department of Social Services
80 Academy Street
Bryson City, NC 28713

Mailing Address
PO Box 610
Bryson City, NC 28713


Sheila Sutton, Director
Phone 828-488-6921
Fax 828-488-8271

Office Hours