Child Protective Services (CPS)

Child Protective Services (CPS) is mandated to conduct assessments of reports of suspected child maltreatment as defined in Chapter 7B of the North Carolina General Statutes. 

During an assessment, a social worker has two primary responsibilities:

  • Gather information to determine if a child or children have been abused, neglected or dependent; and,
  • Provide services necessary to assure child safety.

As part of gathering information, the social worker will seek to interview all children and all adults in the household as well as other persons identified as having information to contribute.  The social worker may need to review medical or other records and may request medical assessments be completed as part of the assessment. 

When conducting a CPS assessment, social workers will complete a safety assessment and give a copy to the parents.  If services are needed to assure child safety, the social worker will involve parents in decision making and work to help the child stay safely at home whenever possible.

Multiple Response

CPS has a choice of two tracks for completing CPS assessments:  an investigative assessment and a family assessment track. 

Investigative assessments are used for allegations of child abuse and certain cases of child neglect, including those involving clear risk of serious harm to a child. 

Investigative assessments are:

  • often conducted in collaboration with law enforcement
  • usually involve interviewing children separately from their parents
  • determines whether sufficient supporting evidence exits to substantiate the allegations made in the report or if not, the allegations are unsubstantiated
  • completed within 30 days, unless extended

If child abuse or serious neglect is substantiated against a specific individual, the individual is notified that his or her name may be placed on a confidential Responsible Individual’s List (RIL) and given an opportunity to appeal the decision.  

Family assessments are used to assess most allegations of child neglect.  Family assessments are intended to engage the family in collaborating with Child Welfare to assure the safety and wellbeing of children. 

In a family assessment:

  • a social worker usually calls a parent to arrange a time to meet with the family;
  • determines whether services are needed, recommended, or not necessary;
  • does not result in a formal finding that an individual was responsible for maltreatment
  • often links a family to services during the assessment
  • completed with 45 days

However, even in a family assessment, Child Welfare can choose to seek court intervention if a family fails to follow through with needed actions to ensure children’s safety.  

What is a Safety Assessment and Safety Plan?

In both Investigative and Family assessments, the social worker completes a safety assessment and safety plan when they first make contact with the family. The social worker will discuss identified safety concerns with the family and ask for input in making a safety plan for any concerns identified. 

  • Participation by parents in developing the plan helps assure that the plan will be workable for the family. 
  • Other family members or supportive individuals can also be part of safety planning for the children. 
  • A safety plan should be specific and include a time frame for when it will be reviewed. 
  • Parents receive a copy of the assessment and plan.

Sometimes children are found to be at high risk of serious harm or more time is needed to determine if children are safe because of the seriousness of the allegations.  In these circumstances, CPS may ask parents to consider placing children temporarily with a relative or trusted caretaker. Such arrangements are called safety resource placements.

Safety Resource placements are intended to:

  • give CPS an opportunity to further assess safety issues and to give parents an opportunity to resolve them. 
  • be short term
  • a substitute for CPS seeking court intervention
  • chosen by parents
  • allow parents to retain legal custody 

However, CPS is required to assure the appropriateness of the safety resource placement by conducting a kinship care assessment that includes a visit to the proposed home and criminal and CPS record checks. 


What happens at the end of the Assessment?

When a CPS assessment does not confirm that children have been maltreated and are at significant risk of future harm, CPS services end when the assessment ends.  In these circumstances, CPS sometimes makes recommendations to families or refers them to services that they can choose to continue, on their own. 

When a CPS assessment confirms that children have been abused, neglected or dependent and are at significant risk of future harm, CPS will usually tell the family that ongoing CPS In-Home Services are required.  CPS will ask the family to help plan ongoing In-Home services to help the family keep children safely at home.  (See CPS In-Home Services for more information).

When a CPS assessment determines that children have been maltreated and are at risk of serious harm, CPS may petition the court for legal custody if no lesser measures are reasonable to protect the child.  (See Foster Care for more information).

CPS notifies families directly and in writing about the outcome of assessments.