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SOUTH CAROLINA STATUTES AND CODES

CHAPTER 7 - CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY

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Title 63 - South Carolina Children's CodeCHAPTER 7. CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCYARTICLE 1. GENERAL PROVISIONS SECTION 63-7-10. Purpose. (A) Any intervention by the State into family life on behalf of children must be guided by law, by strong philosophical underpinnings, and by sound professional standards for practice.Child welfare services must be based on these principles: (1) Parents have the primary responsibility for and are the primary resource for their children. (2) Children should have the opportunity to grow up in a family unit if at all possible. (3) State and community agencies have a responsibility to implement prevention programs aimed at identifying high risk families and to provide supportive intervention to reduce occurrence of maltreatment. (4) Services for families should be accessible and designed to encourage and enable families to adequately deal with their problems within their own family system. (5) All child welfare intervention by the State has as its primary goal the welfare and safety of the child. (6) Child welfare intervention into a family's life should be structured so as to avoid a child's entry into the protective service and foster care systems if at all possible. (7) The state's child welfare system must be designed to be child-centered, family-focused, community-based, and culturally competent in its prevention and protection efforts. (8) Neighborhoods and communities are the primary source of opportunities and supports for families and have a primary responsibility in assuring the safety and vitality of their members. (9) The Department of Social Services shall collaborate with the community to identify, support, and treat families in a nonthreatening manner, in both investigative and family assessment situations. (10) A family assessment approach, stressing the safety of the child, building on the strengths of the family, and identifying and treating the family's needs is the appropriate approach for cases not requiring law enforcement involvement or the removal of the child. (11) Only a comparatively small percentage of current child abuse and neglect reports are criminal in nature or will result in the removal of the child or alleged perpetrator. (12) Should removal of a child become necessary, the state's foster care system must be prepared to provide timely and appropriate placements for children with relatives or in licensed foster care settings and to establish a plan which reflects a commitment by the State to achieving permanency for the child within reasonable timelines. (13) The Department of Social Services staff who investigates serious child abuse and neglect reports with law enforcement must be competent in law enforcement procedures, fact finding, evidence gathering, and effective social intervention and assessment. (14) Services should be identified quickly and should build on the strengths and resources of families and communities. (B) It is the purpose of this chapter to: (1) acknowledge the different intervention needs of families; (2) establish an effective system of services throughout the State to safeguard the well-being and development of endangered children and to preserve and stabilize family life, whenever appropriate; (3) ensure permanency on a timely basis for children when removal from their homes is necessary; (4) establish fair and equitable procedures, compatible with due process of law to intervene in family life with due regard to the safety and welfare of all family members;and (5) establish an effective system of protection of children from injury and harm while living in public and private residential agencies and institutions meant to serve them. SECTION 63-7-20. Definitions. When used in this chapter or Chapter 9 or 11 and unless the specific context indicates otherwise: (1) "Abandonment of a child" means a parent or guardian wilfully deserts a child or wilfully surrenders physical possession of a child without making adequate arrangements for the child's needs or the continuing care of the child. (2) "Affirmative determination" means a finding by a preponderance of evidence that the child was abused or neglected by the person who is alleged or determined to have abused or neglected the child and who is mentioned by name in a report or finding.This finding may be made only by: (a) the court; (b) the Department of Social Services upon a final agency decision in its appeals process;or (c) waiver by the subject of the report of his right to appeal.If an affirmative determination is made by the court after an affirmative determination is made by the Department of Social Services, the court's finding must be the affirmative determination. (3) "Child" means a person under the age of eighteen. (4) "Child abuse or neglect" or "harm" occurs when the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare: (a) inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical or mental injury or engages in acts or omissions which present a substantial risk of physical or mental injury to the child, including injuries sustained as a result of excessive corporal punishment, but excluding corporal punishment or physical discipline which: (i) is administered by a parent or person in loco parentis; (ii) is perpetrated for the sole purpose of restraining or correcting the child; (iii) is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree; (iv) has not brought about permanent or lasting damage to the child;and (v) is not reckless or grossly negligent behavior by the parents. (b) commits or allows to be committed against the child a sexual offense as defined by the laws of this State or engages in acts or omissions that present a substantial risk that a sexual offense as defined in the laws of this State would be committed against the child; (c) fails to supply the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or education as required under Article 1 of Chapter 65 of Title 59, supervision appropriate to the child's age and development, or health care though financially able to do so or offered financial or other reasonable means to do so and the failure to do so has caused or presents a substantial risk of causing physical or mental injury.However, a child's absences from school may not be considered abuse or neglect unless the school has made efforts to bring about the child's attendance, and those efforts were unsuccessful because of the parents' refusal to cooperate.For the purpose of this chapter "adequate health care" includes any medical or nonmedical remedial health care permitted or authorized under state law; (d) abandons the child; (e) encourages, condones, or approves the commission of delinquent acts by the child and the commission of the acts are shown to be the result of the encouragement, condonation, or approval;or (f) has committed abuse or neglect as described in subsections (a) through (e) such that a child who subsequently becomes part of the person's household is at substantial risk of one of those forms of abuse or neglect. (5) "Child protective investigation" means an inquiry conducted by the department in response to a report of child abuse or neglect made pursuant to this chapter. (6) "Child protective services" means assistance provided by the department as a result of indicated reports or affirmative determinations of child abuse or neglect, including assistance ordered by the family court or consented to by the family.The objectives of child protective services are to: (a) protect the child's safety and welfare;and (b) maintain the child within the family unless the safety of the child requires placement outside the home. (7) "Court" means the family court. (8) "Department" means the Department of Social Services. (9) "Emergency protective custody" means the right to physical custody of a child for a temporary period of no more than twenty-four hours to protect the child from imminent danger. Emergency protective custody may be taken only by a law enforcement officer pursuant to this chapter. (10) "Guardianship of a child" means the duty and authority vested in a person by the family court to make certain decisions regarding a child, including: (a) consenting to a marriage, enlistment in the armed forces, and medical and surgical treatment; (b) representing a child in legal actions and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance affecting a child;and (c) rights and responsibilities of legal custody when legal custody has not been vested by the court in another person, agency, or institution. (11) "Indicated report" means a report of child abuse or neglect supported by facts which warrant a finding by a preponderance of evidence that abuse or neglect is more likely than not to have occurred. (12) "Institutional child abuse and neglect" means situations of known or suspected child abuse or neglect where the person responsible for the child's welfare is the employee of a public or private residential home, institution, or agency. (13) "Legal custody" means the right to the physical custody, care, and control of a child;the right to determine where the child shall live;the right and duty to provide protection, food, clothing, shelter, ordinary medical care, education, supervision, and discipline for a child and in an emergency to authorize surgery or other extraordinary care.The court may in its order place other rights and duties with the legal custodian.Unless otherwise provided by court order, the parent or guardian retains the right to make decisions of substantial legal significance affecting the child, including consent to a marriage, enlistment in the armed forces, and major nonemergency medical and surgical treatment, the obligation to provide financial support or other funds for the care of the child, and other residual rights or obligations as may be provided by order of the court. (14) "Mental injury" means an injury to the intellectual, emotional, or psychological capacity or functioning of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment of the child's ability to function when the existence of that impairment is supported by the opinion of a mental health professional or medical professional. (15) "Party in interest" includes the child, the child's attorney and guardian ad litem, the natural parent, an individual with physical or legal custody of the child, the foster parent, and the local foster care review board. (16) "Person responsible for a child's welfare" includes the child's parent, guardian, foster parent, an operator, employee, or caregiver, as defined by Section 63-13-20, of a public or private residential home, institution, agency, or childcare facility or an adult who has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child, but who does not necessarily have legal custody of the child.A person whose only role is as a caregiver and whose contact is only incidental with a child, such as a babysitter or a person who has only incidental contact but may not be a caretaker, has not assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian.An investigation pursuant to Section 63-7-920 must be initiated when the information contained in a report otherwise sufficient under this section does not establish whether the person has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child. (17) "Physical custody" means the lawful, actual possession and control of a child. (18) "Physical injury" means death or permanent or temporary disfigurement or impairment of any bodily organ or function. (19) "Preponderance of evidence" means evidence which, when fairly considered, is more convincing as to its truth than the evidence in opposition. (20) "Probable cause" means facts and circumstances based upon accurate and reliable information, including hearsay, that would justify a reasonable person to believe that a child subject to a report under this chapter is abused or neglected. (21) "Protective services unit" means the unit established within the Department of Social Services which has prime responsibility for state efforts to strengthen and improve the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. (22) "Subject of the report" means a person who is alleged or determined to have abused or neglected the child, who is mentioned by name in a report or finding. (23) "Suspected report" means all initial reports of child abuse or neglect received pursuant to this chapter. (24) "Unfounded report" means a report made pursuant to this chapter for which there is not a preponderance of evidence to believe that the child is abused or neglected.For the purposes of this chapter, it is presumed that all reports are unfounded unless the department determines otherwise. SECTION 63-7-30. Seeking assistance. A person seeking assistance in meeting child care responsibilities may use the services and facilities established by this chapter, including the single statewide telephone number and local child protective services where available.These persons must be referred to appropriate community resources or agencies, notwithstanding whether the problem presented involves child abuse or neglect. SECTION 63-7-40. Safe haven for abandoned babies. (A) A safe haven in this State must, without a court order, take temporary physical custody of an infant who is voluntarily left with the safe haven by a person who does not express an intent to return for the infant and the circumstances give rise to a reasonable belief that the person does not intend to return for the infant.If the safe haven is a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, the hospital or hospital facility shall perform any act necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the infant;any other safe haven shall, as soon as possible, but no later than six hours after receiving an infant, transport the infant to a hospital or hospital outpatient facility.The person leaving the infant is not required to disclose his or her identity;however, the person must leave the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or employee of the safe haven. (B)(1) The safe haven must offer the person leaving the infant information concerning the legal effect of leaving the infant with the safe haven. (2) The safe haven must ask the person leaving the infant to identify any parent of the infant other than the person leaving the infant with the safe haven.The safe haven also must attempt to obtain from the person information concerning the infant's background and medical history as specified on a form provided by the Department of Social Services.This information includes, but is not limited to, information concerning the use of a controlled substance by the infant's mother, provided that information regarding the use of a controlled substance by the infant's mother is not admissible as evidence of the unlawful use of a controlled substance in any court proceeding.The safe haven shall give the person a copy of the form and a prepaid envelope for mailing the form to the Department of Social Services if the person does not wish to provide the information to the safe haven.These materials must be provided to safe havens by the department. (3) Any identifying information disclosed by the person leaving the infant must be kept confidential by the safe haven and disclosed to no one other than the department.However, if a court determines that the immunity provisions of subsection (H) do not apply, the safe haven may disclose the information as permitted by confidentiality protections applicable to records of the safe haven, if the safe haven has such confidentiality protections for records.The department shall maintain confidentiality of this information in accordance with Section 63-7-1990. (C) Not later than the close of the first business day after the date on which a hospital or hospital outpatient facility takes possession of an infant pursuant to subsection (A), the hospital or hospital outpatient facility shall notify the department that it has taken temporary physical custody of the infant.The department has legal custody of the infant immediately upon receipt of the notice.The department shall assume physical control of the infant as soon as practicable upon receipt of the notice, but no later than twenty-four hours after receiving notice that the infant is ready for discharge from the hospital or hospital outpatient facility.Assumption of custody by the department pursuant to this subsection does not constitute emergency protective custody, and the provisions of Subarticle 3 of Article 3 do not apply.The department is not required to initiate a child protective services investigation solely because an infant comes into its custody under this subsection. (D) Immediately after receiving notice from a hospital or hospital outpatient facility pursuant to subsection (C), the department shall contact the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for assistance in assuring that the infant is not a missing infant.The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division shall treat the request as ongoing for a period of thirty days and shall contact the department if a missing infant report is received that might relate to the infant. (E)(1) Within forty-eight hours after taking legal custody of the infant, the department shall publish notice, in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the safe haven that initially took the infant is located, and send a news release to broadcast and print media in the area.The notice and the news release must state the circumstances under which the infant was left at the safe haven, a description of the infant, and the date, time, and place of the permanency planning hearing provided for in subsection (E)(2).The notice and the news release must also state that any person wishing to assert parental rights in regard to the infant must do so at the hearing.If the person leaving the infant identified anyone as being a parent of the infant, the notice must be sent by certified mail to the last known address of the person identified as a parent at least two weeks prior to the hearing. (2) Within forty-eight hours after obtaining legal custody of the infant, the department shall file a petition alleging that the infant has been abandoned, that the court should dispense with reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify the family, that continuation of keeping the infant in the home of the parent or parents would be contrary to the welfare of the infant, and that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the infant.A hearing on the petition must be held no earlier than thirty and no later than sixty days after the department takes legal custody of the infant.This hearing is the permanency planning hearing for the infant.If the court approves the permanent plan of termination of parental rights, the order must also provide that a petition for termination of parental rights on the grounds of abandonment must be filed within ten days after receipt of the order by the department. (F) The act of leaving an infant with a safe haven pursuant to this section is conclusive evidence that the infant has been abused or neglected for purposes of Department of Social Services' jurisdiction and for evidentiary purposes in any judicial proceeding in which abuse or neglect of an infant is an issue.It is also conclusive evidence that the requirements for termination of parental rights have been satisfied as to any parent who left the infant or acted in concert with the person leaving the infant. (G) A person who leaves an infant at a safe haven or directs another person to do so must not be prosecuted for any criminal offense on account of such action if: (1) the person is a parent of the infant or is acting at the direction of a parent; (2) the person leaves the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or an employee of the safe haven;and (3) the infant is not more than thirty days old or the infant is reasonably determined by the hospital or hospital outpatient facility to be not more than thirty days old. This subsection does not apply to prosecution for the infliction of any harm upon the infant other than the harm inherent in abandonment. (H) A safe haven and its agents, and any health care professionals practicing within a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, are immune from civil or criminal liability for any action authorized by this section, so long as the safe haven, or health care professional, complies with all provisions of this section. (I) The department, either alone or in collaboration with any other public entity, shall take appropriate measures to achieve public awareness of the provisions of this section. (J) For purposes of this section: (1) "infant" means a person not more than thirty days old;and (2) "safe haven" means a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, a law enforcement agency, a fire station, an emergency medical services station, or any staffed house of worship during hours when the facility is staffed. (K) Annually the department shall submit a report to the General Assembly containing data on infants who come into the custody of the department pursuant to this section.The data must include, but are not limited to, the date, time, and place where the infant was left, the hospital to which the infant was taken, the health of the infant at the time of being admitted to the hospital, disposition and placement of the infant, and, if available, circumstances surrounding the infant being left at the safe haven.No data in the report may contain identifying information. ARTICLE 3. IDENTIFICATION, INVESTIGATION, AND INTERVENTIONSUBARTICLE 1. IDENTIFYING AND REPORTING CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT SECTION 63-7-310. Persons required to report. (A) A physician, nurse, dentist, optometrist, medical examiner, or coroner, or an employee of a county medical examiner's or coroner's office, or any other medical, emergency medical services, mental health, or allied health professional, member of the clergy including a Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, school teacher, counselor, principal, assistant principal, social or public assistance worker, substance abuse treatment staff, or childcare worker in a childcare center or foster care facility, police or law enforcement officer, undertaker, funeral home director or employee of a funeral home, persons responsible for processing films, computer technician, or a judge must report in accordance with this section when in the person's professional capacity the person has received information which gives the person reason to believe that a child has been or may be abused or neglected as defined in Section 63-7-20. (B) If a person required to report pursuant to subsection (A) has received information in the person's professional capacity which gives the person reason to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by acts or omissions that would be child abuse or neglect if committed by a parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare, but the reporter believes that the act or omission was committed by a person other than the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare, the reporter must make a report to the appropriate law enforcement agency. (C) Except as provided in subsection (A), any person who has reason to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse and neglect may report in accordance with this section. (D) Reports of child abuse or neglect may be made orally by telephone or otherwise to the county department of social services or to a law enforcement agency in the county where the child resides or is found. SECTION 63-7-320. Notification and transfer. (A) Where reports are made pursuant to Section 63-7-310 to a law enforcement agency, the law enforcement agency shall notify the county department of social services of the law enforcement's response to the report at the earliest possible time. (B) Where a county or contiguous counties have established multicounty child protective services, the county department of social services immediately shall transfer reports pursuant to this section to the service. SECTION 63-7-330. Confidentiality of information. (A) The identity of the person making a report pursuant to this section must be kept confidential by the agency or department receiving the report and must not be disclosed except as provided for in subsection (B) or (C) or as otherwise provided for in this chapter. (B) When the department refers a report to a law enforcement agency for a criminal investigation, the department must inform the law enforcement agency of the identity of the person who reported the child abuse or neglect. The identity of the reporter must only be used by the law enforcement agency to further the criminal investigation arising from the report, and the agency must not disclose the reporter's identity to any person other than an employee of the agency who is involved in the criminal investigation arising from the report.If the reporter testifies in a criminal proceeding arising from the report, it must not be disclosed that the reporter made the report. (C) When a law enforcement agency refers a report to the department for an investigation or other response, the law enforcement agency must inform the department of the identity of the person who reported the child abuse or neglect.The department must not disclose the identity of the reporter to any person except as authorized by Section 63-7-1990. SECTION 63-7-340. Previous reports. When a report is referred to the department for an investigation or other response, the department must determine whether previous reports have been made regarding the same child or the same subject of the report.In determining whether previous reports have been made, the department must determine whether there are any suspected, indicated, or unfounded reports maintained pursuant to Section 63-7-930 regarding the same child or the same subject of the report. SECTION 63-7-350. Reports for lack of investigation. If the department does not conduct an investigation as a result of information received pursuant to this subarticle, the department must make a record of the information and must classify the record as a Category IV unfounded report in accordance with Section 63-7-930.The department and law enforcement are authorized to use information recorded pursuant to this section for purposes of assessing risk and safety if additional contacts are made concerning the child, the family, or the subject of the report. SECTION 63-7-360. Mandatory reporting to coroner. A person required under Section 63-7-310 to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, including workers of the department, who has reason to believe a child has died as the result of child abuse or neglect, shall report this information to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner.Any other person who has reason to believe that a child has died as a result of child abuse or neglect may report this information to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner.The medical examiner or coroner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report his findings to the appropriate law enforcement agency, circuit solicitor's office, the county department of social services and, if the institution making a report is a hospital, to the hospital. SECTION 63-7-370. Domestic violence reporting. The law enforcement officer upon receipt of a report of domestic violence may report this information to the Department of Social Services. The department may treat the case as suspected report of abuse and may investigate the case as in other allegations of abuse in order to determine if the child has been harmed. SECTION 63-7-380. Photos and x-rays without parental consent. A person required to report under Section 63-7-310 may take, or cause to be taken, color photographs of the areas of trauma visible on a child who is the subject of a report and, if medically indicated, a physician may cause to be performed a radiological examination or other medical examinations or tests of the child without the consent of the child's parents or guardians. Copies of all photographs, negatives, radiological, and other medical reports must be sent to the department at the time a report pursuant to Section 63-7-310 is made, or as soon as reasonably possible after the report is made. SECTION 63-7-390. Reporter immunity from liability. A person required or permitted to report pursuant to Section 63-7-310 or who participates in an investigation or judicial proceedings resulting from the report, acting in good faith, is immune from civil and criminal liability which might otherwise result by reason of these actions.In all such civil or criminal proceedings, good faith is rebuttably presumed. Immunity under this section extends to full disclosure by the person of facts which gave the person reason to believe that the child's physical or mental health or welfare had been or might be adversely affected by abuse or neglect. SECTION 63-7-400. Department of Social Services immunity from liability. An employee, volunteer, or official of the Department of Social Services required or authorized to perform child protective or child welfare-related functions or an individual with whom the department has contracted to convene family group conferences or a law enforcement officer required or authorized to perform child protective or child welfare related functions is immune from civil or criminal liability which might otherwise result by reason of acts or omissions within the scope of the official duties of the employee, volunteer, convener, officer, or official, as long as the employee, volunteer, convener, officer, or official acted in good faith and was not reckless, wilful, wanton, or grossly negligent.In all such civil or criminal proceedings good faith is rebuttably presumed.This grant of immunity is cumulative to and does not replace any other immunity provided under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. SECTION 63-7-410. Failure to report;penalties. A person required to report a case of child abuse or neglect or a person required to perform any other function under this article who knowingly fails to do so, or a person who threatens or attempts to intimidate a witness is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than six months, or both. SECTION 63-7-420. Abrogation of privileged communication;exceptions. The privileged quality of communication between husband and wife and any professional person and his patient or client, except that between attorney and client or clergy member, including Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, and penitent, is abrogated and does not constitute grounds for failure to report or the exclusion of evidence in a civil protective proceeding resulting from a report pursuant to this article. However, a clergy member, including Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, must report in accordance with this subarticle except when information is received from the alleged perpetrator of the abuse and neglect during a communication that is protected by the clergy and penitent privilege as provided for in Section 19-11-90. SECTION 63-7-430. Civil action for bad faith reporting. (A) If the family court determines pursuant to Section 63-7-2000 that a person has made a report of suspected child abuse or neglect maliciously or in bad faith or if a person has been found guilty of making a false report pursuant to Section 63-7-440, the department may bring a civil action to recover the costs of the department's investigation and proceedings associated with the investigation, including attorney's fees.The department also is entitled to recover costs and attorney's fees incurred in the civil action authorized by this section.The decision of whether to bring a civil action pursuant to this section is in the sole discretion of the department. (B) If the family court determines pursuant to Section 63-7-2000 that a person has made a false report of suspected child abuse or neglect maliciously or in bad faith or if a person has been found guilty of making a false report pursuant to Section 63-7-440, a person who was subject of the false report has a civil cause of action against the person who made the false report and is entitled to recover from the person who made the false report such relief as may be appropriate, including: (1) actual damages; (2) punitive damages;and (3) a reasonable attorney's fee and other litigation costs reasonably incurred. SECTION 63-7-440. Knowingly making false report. (A) It is unlawful to knowingly make a false report of abuse or neglect. (B) A person who violates subsection (A) is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both. SECTION 63-7-450. Department of Social Services to provide information to public. (A) The Department of Social Services Protective Services shall inform all persons required to report under this subarticle of the nature, problem, and extent of child abuse and neglect and of their duties and responsibilities in accordance with this article.The department also, on a continuing basis, shall conduct training programs for department staff and appropriate training for persons required to report under this subarticle. (B) The department, on a continuing basis, shall inform the public of the nature, problem, and extent of the child abuse and neglect and of the remedial and therapeutic services available to children and their families. The department shall encourage families to seek help consistent with Section 63-7-30. (C) The department, on a continuing basis, shall actively publicize the appropriate telephone numbers to receive reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, including the twenty-four hour, statewide, toll-free telephone service and respective numbers of the county department offices. SUBARTICLE 3. EMERGENCY PROTECTIVE CUSTODY SECTION 63-7-610. Statewide jurisdiction. (A) A law enforcement officer investigating a case of suspected child abuse or neglect or responding to a request for assistance by the department as it investigates a case of suspected child abuse or neglect has authority to take emergency protective custody of the child pursuant to this subarticle in all counties and municipalities. (B) Immediately upon taking emergency protective custody, the law enforcement officer shall notify the local office of the department responsible to the county in which the activity under investigation occurred. (C) The department shall designate by policy and procedure the local department office responsible for procedures required by this subarticle when a child resides in a county other than the one in which the activity under investigation occurred.The probable cause hearing required by Section 63-7-710 may be held in the county of the child's residence or the county of the law enforcement officer's jurisdiction. SECTION 63-7-620. Emergency protective custody. (A) A law enforcement officer may take emergency protective custody of a child without the consent of the child's parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child if: (1) the officer has probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect the child's life, health, or physical safety is in substantial and imminent danger if the child is not taken into emergency protective custody, and there is not time to apply for a court order pursuant to Section 63-7-1660.When a child is taken into emergency protective custody following an incident of excessive corporal punishment, and the only injury to the child is external lesions or minor bruises, other children in the home shall not be taken into emergency protective custody solely on account of the injury of one child through excessive corporal punishment.However, the officer may take emergency protective custody of other children in the home if a threat of harm to them is further indicated by factors including, but not limited to, a prior history of domestic violence or other abuse in the home, alcohol or drug abuse if known or evident at the time of the initial contact, or other circumstances indicative of danger to the children; (2) the child's parent, parents, or guardian has been arrested or the child has become lost accidentally and as a result the child's welfare is threatened due to loss of adult protection and supervision;and (a) in the circumstances of arrest, the parent, parents, or guardian does not consent in writing to another person assuming physical custody of the child; (b) in the circumstances of a lost child, a search by law enforcement has not located the parent, parents, or guardian. (B)(1) If the child is in need of emergency medical care at the time the child is taken into emergency protective custody, the officer shall transport the child to an appropriate health care facility.Emergency medical care may be provided to the child without consent, as provided in Section 63-5-350.The parent or guardian is responsible for the cost of emergency medical care that is provided to the child.However, the parent or guardian is not responsible for the cost of medical examinations performed at the request of law enforcement or the department solely for the purpose of assessing whether the child has been abused or neglected unless it is determined that the child has been harmed as defined in this chapter. (2) If the child is not in need of emergency medical care, the officer or the department shall transport the child to a place agreed upon by the department and law enforcement, and the department within two hours shall assume physical control of the child and shall place the child in a licensed foster home or shelter within a reasonable period of time.In no case may the child be placed in a jail or other secure facility or a facility for the detention of criminal or juvenile offenders.While the child is in its custody, the department shall provide for the needs of the child and assure that a child of school age who is physically able to do so continues attending school. SECTION 63-7-630. Notification of Department of Social Services. When an officer takes a child into emergency protective custody under this subarticle, the officer immediately shall notify the department.The department shall notify the parent, guardian, or other person exercising temporary or permanent control over the child as early as reasonably possible of the location of the child unless there are compelling reasons for believing that disclosure of this information would be contrary to the best interests of the child. SECTION 63-7-640. Preliminary investigation. The department shall conduct within twenty-four hours after the child is taken into emergency protective custody by law enforcement or pursuant to ex parte order a preliminary investigation to determine whether grounds for assuming legal custody of the child exist and whether reasonable means exist for avoiding removal of the child from the home of the parent or guardian or for placement of the child with a relative and means for minimizing the emotional impact on the child of separation from the child's home and family.During this time the department, if possible, shall convene, a meeting with the child's parents or guardian, extended family, and other relevant persons to discuss the family's problems that led to intervention and possible corrective actions, including placement of the child. SECTION 63-7-650. Risk assessment before placement. Before agreeing to or acquiescing in a corrective action that involves placement of the child with a relative or other person or making an interim placement with a relative while retaining custody of the child or as soon as possible after agreeing to or acquiescing in a corrective action, the department shall secure from the relative or other person and other adults in the home an affidavit attesting to information necessary to determine whether a criminal history or history of child abuse or neglect exists and whether this history indicates there is a significant risk that the child would be threatened with abuse or neglect in the home of the relative or other person.As soon as possible, the department shall confirm the information supplied in the affidavit by checking the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect, other relevant department records, county sex offender registries, and records for the preceding five years of law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction in which the relative or other person resides and, to the extent reasonably possible, jurisdictions in which the relative or other person has resided during that period.The department must not agree to or acquiesce in a placement if the affidavit or these records reveal information indicating there is a significant risk that the child would be threatened with abuse or neglect in the home of the relative or other person.The relative or other person must consent to a check of the above records by the department. SECTION 63-7-660. Assumption of legal custody. If the department determines after the preliminary investigation that there is probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect the child's life, health, or physical safety is in imminent and substantial danger, the department may assume legal custody of the child without the consent of the child's parent, guardian, or custodian.The department shall make every reasonable effort to notify the child's parent, guardian, or custodian of the location of the child and shall make arrangements for temporary visitation unless there are compelling reasons why visitation or notice of the location of the child would be contrary to the best interests of the child.The notification must be in writing and shall include notice of the right to a hearing and right to counsel pursuant to this article. Nothing in this section authorizes the department to physically remove a child from the care of the child's parent or guardian without an order of the court.The department may exercise the authority to assume legal custody only after a law enforcement officer has taken emergency protective custody of the child or the family court has granted emergency protective custody by ex parte order, and the department has conducted a preliminary investigation pursuant to Section 63-7-640. SECTION 63-7-670. Returning child to parents;alternative procedures. If emergency protective custody of the child was taken by a law enforcement officer pursuant to this subarticle, and the department concludes after the preliminary investigation that the child should be returned to the child's parent, guardian, or custodian, the department shall consult with the law enforcement officer who took emergency protective custody unless the department and the law enforcement agency have agreed to an alternative procedure.If the officer objects to the return of the child, the department must assume legal custody of the child until a probable cause hearing can be held.The alternative procedure agreed to by the department and the law enforcement agency may provide that the child must be retained in custody if the officer cannot be contacted, conditions under which the child may be returned home if the officer cannot be contacted, other persons within the law enforcement agency who are to be consulted instead of the officer, or other procedures.If no alternative procedure has been agreed to and the department is unable to contact the law enforcement officer after reasonable efforts to do so, the department shall consult with the officer's designee or the officer's agency. SECTION 63-7-680. Emergency protective custody extension. The period of emergency protective custody may be extended for up to twenty-four additional hours if: (1) the department concludes that the child is to be placed with a relative or other person instead of taking legal custody of the child; (2) the department requests the appropriate law enforcement agency to check for records concerning the relative or other person, or any adults in that person's home;and (3) the law enforcement agency notifies the department that the extension is needed to enable the law enforcement agency to complete its record check before the department's decision on whether to take legal custody of the child. SECTION 63-7-690. Relative placement. (A) If within the twenty-four hours following removal of the child: (1) the department has identified a specified relative or other person with whom it has determined that the child is to be placed instead of the department's taking legal custody of the child;and (2) both the relative or other person with whom the child is to be placed and the child's parent or guardian have agreed to the placement, the department may retain physical custody of the child for no more than five additional days if necessary to enable the relative or other person to make travel or other arrangements incident to the placement. (B) A probable cause hearing pursuant to Section 63-7-710 shall not be held unless the placement fails to occur as planned within the five-day period or the child's parent or guardian makes a written request for a hearing to the department.The department must give the child's parent or guardian written notice of the right to request a probable cause hearing to obtain a judicial determination of whether removal of the child from the home was and remains necessary.Upon receipt of a written request for a hearing from the child's parent or guardian, the department shall schedule a hearing for the next date on which the family court is scheduled to hear probable cause hearings. (C) If the placement does not occur as planned within the five-day period, the department immediately must determine whether to assume legal custody of the child and file a petition as provided in Section 63-7-700(B). The department shall assure that the child is given age-appropriate information about the plans for placement and any subsequent changes in those plans at the earliest feasible time. SECTION 63-7-700. Emergency protective custody proceedings. (A) If a law enforcement officer clearly states to the department at the time the officer delivers physical control of the child to the department that the child is not to be returned to the home or placed with a relative before a probable cause hearing regardless of the outcome of a preliminary investigation, the department immediately must take legal custody of the child.In this case, at a minimum, the department shall conduct a preliminary investigation as provided in Section 63-7-640 within seventy-two hours after the child was taken into emergency protective custody and shall make recommendations concerning return of the child to the home or placement with a relative or other person to the family court at the probable cause hearing or take other appropriate action as provided in this chapter. (B)(1) The department, upon assuming legal custody of the child, shall begin a child protective investigation, including immediate attention to the protection of other children in the home, or other setting where the child was found.The department shall initiate a removal proceeding in the appropriate family court pursuant to Section 63-7-1660 on or before the next working day after initiating the investigation.If a noncustodial parent is not named as a party, the department shall exercise every reasonable effort to promptly notify the noncustodial parent that a removal proceeding has been initiated and of the date and time of any hearings scheduled pursuant to this subarticle. (2) Upon a determination by the department before the probable cause hearing that there is not a preponderance of evidence that child abuse or neglect occurred, the department may place physical custody of the child with the parent, parents, guardian, immediate family member, or relative, with the department retaining legal custody pending the probable cause hearing. (3) When the facts and circumstances of the report clearly indicate that no abuse or neglect occurred, the report promptly must be determined to be unfounded, and the department shall exercise reasonable efforts to expedite the placement of the child with the parent, parents, guardian, immediate family member, or relative. (C) If the child is returned to the child's parent, guardian, or custodian following the preliminary investigation, a probable cause hearing must be held if requested by the child's parent, guardian, or custodian or the department or the law enforcement agency that took emergency protective custody of the child.The request must be made in writing to the court within ten days after the child is returned.A probable cause hearing pursuant to Section 63-7-710 must be scheduled within seven days of the request to determine whether there was probable cause to take emergency physical custody of the child. SECTION 63-7-710. Probable cause hearing. (A) The family court shall schedule a probable cause hearing to be held within seventy-two hours of the time the child was taken into emergency protective custody.If the third day falls upon a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the probable cause hearing must be held no later than the next working day.If there is no term of court in the county when the probable cause hearing must be held, the hearing must be held in another county in the circuit.If there is no term of family court in another county in the circuit, the probable cause hearing may be heard in another court in an adjoining circuit. (B) The probable cause hearing may be conducted by video conference at the discretion of the judge. (C) At the probable cause hearing, the family court shall undertake to fulfill the requirements of Section 63-7-1620 and shall determine whether there was probable cause for taking emergency protective custody and for the department to assume legal custody of the child and shall determine whether probable cause to retain legal custody of the child remains at the time of the hearing. (D) At the probable cause hearing, the respondents may submit affidavits as to facts which are alleged to form the basis of the removal and to cross-examine the department's witnesses as to whether there existed probable cause to effect emergency removal. (E) The hearing on the merits to determine whether removal of custody is needed, pursuant to Section 63-7-1660, must be held within thirty-five days of the date of receipt of the removal petition.At the probable cause hearing, the court shall set the time and date for the hearing on the merits. A party may request a continuance that would result in the hearing being held more than thirty-five days after the petition was filed, and the court may grant the request for continuance only if exceptional circumstances exist.If a continuance is granted, the hearing on the merits must be completed within sixty-five days following receipt of the removal petition.The court may continue the hearing on the merits beyond sixty-five days without returning the child to the home only if the court issues a written order with findings of fact supporting a determination that the following conditions are satisfied, regardless of whether the parties have agreed to a continuance: (1) the court finds that the child should remain in the custody of the department because there is probable cause to believe that returning the child to the home would seriously endanger the child's physical safety or emotional well-being; (2) the court schedules the case for trial on a date and time certain which is not more than thirty days after the date the hearing was scheduled to be held;and (3) the court finds that exceptional circumstances support the continuance or the parties and the guardian ad litem agree to a continuance. (F) The court may continue the case past the date and time certain set forth in subsection (E) only if the court issues a new order as required in subsection (E). (G) The court may continue the case because a witness is unavailable only if the court enters a finding of fact that the court cannot decide the case without the testimony of the witness.The court shall consider and rule on whether the hearing can begin and then recess to have the witness' testimony taken at a later date or by deposition.The court shall rule on whether the party offering the witness has exercised due diligence to secure the presence of the witness or to preserve the witness' testimony. (H) This section does not prevent the court from conducting a pendente lite hearing on motion of any party and issuing an order granting other appropriate relief pending a hearing on the merits. (I) If the child is returned to the home pending the merits hearing, the court may impose such terms and conditions as it determines appropriate to protect the child from harm, including measures to protect the child as a witness. (J) When a continuance is granted pursuant to this section, the family court shall ensure that the hearing is rescheduled within the time limits provided in this section and give the hearing priority over other matters pending before the court except a probable cause hearing held pursuant to this section, a detention hearing held pursuant to Section 63-19-830, or a hearing held pursuant to Section 63-19-1030 or 63-19-1210 concerning a child who is in state custody pursuant to Chapter 19.An exception also may be made for child custody hearings if the court, in its discretion, makes a written finding stating compelling reasons, relating to the welfare of the child, for giving priority to the custody hearing. SECTION 63-7-720. Reasonable efforts to prevent removal. (A) An order issued as a result of the probable cause hearing held pursuant to Section 63-7-710 concerning a child of whom the department has assumed legal custody shall contain a finding by the court of whether reasonable efforts were made by the department to prevent removal of the child and a finding of whether continuation of the child in the home would be contrary to the welfare of the child.The order shall state: (1) the services made available to the family before the department assumed legal custody of the child and how they related to the needs of the family; (2) the efforts of the department to provide services to the family before assuming legal custody of the child; (3) why the efforts to provide services did not eliminate the need for the department to assume legal custody; (4) whether a meeting was convened as provided in Section 63-7-640, the persons present, and the outcome of the meeting or, if no meeting was held, the reason for not holding a meeting; (5) what efforts were made to place the child with a relative known to the child or in another familiar environment; (6) whether the efforts to eliminate the need for the department to assume legal custody were reasonable including, but not limited to, whether services were reasonably available and timely, reasonably adequate to address the needs of the family, reasonably adequate to protect the child and realistic under the circumstances, and whether efforts to place the child in a familiar environment were reasonable. (B) If the court finds that reasonable services would not have allowed the child to remain safely in the home, the court shall find that removal of the child without services or without further services was reasonable. SECTION 63-7-730. Expedited relative placement. If the court orders the child to remain in the legal custody of the department at the probable cause hearing, the family court may order expedited placement of the child with a relative of the first or second degree.The court shall require the department to check the names of all adults in the home against the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect, other relevant records of the department, county sex abuse registers, and records for the preceding five years of law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction in which the person resides and, to the extent reasonably possible, jurisdictions in which the person has resided during that period. The court may hold open the record of the probable cause hearing for twenty-four hours to receive the reports and based on these reports and other information introduced at the probable cause hearing, the court may order expedited placement of the child in the home of the relative. Nothing in this section precludes the department from requesting or the court from ordering pursuant to the department's request either a full study of the relative's home before placement or the licensing or approval of the relative's home before placement. SECTION 63-7-740. Ex parte emergency protective custody. (A) The family court may order ex parte that a child be taken into emergency protective custody without the consent of parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child if: (1) the family court judge determines there is probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect there exists an imminent and substantial danger to the child's life, health, or physical safety;and (2) parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child are unavailable or do not consent to the child's removal from their custody. (B) If the court issues such an order, the department shall conduct a preliminary investigation and otherwise proceed as provided in this subarticle. SECTION 63-7-750. Doctor or hospital may detain child;civil immunity. (A) A physician or hospital to which a child has been brought for treatment may detain the child for up to twenty-four hours without the consent of the person responsible for the child's welfare if the physician or hospital: (1) has reason to believe that the child has been abused or neglected; (2) has made a report to a law enforcement agency and the department pursuant to Section 63-7-310, stating the time the physician notified the agency or department that the child was being detained until a law enforcement officer could arrive to determine whether the officer should take emergency physical custody of the child pursuant to Subarticle 3;and (3) has reason to believe that release of the child to the child's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker presents an imminent danger to the child's life, health, or physical safety.A hospital must designate a qualified person or persons within the hospital who shall have sole authority to detain a child on behalf of the hospital. (B) A physician or hospital that detains a child in good faith as provided in this section is immune from civil or criminal liability for detaining the child. SECTION 63-7-760. Protocols. The department and local law enforcement agencies shall develop written protocols to address issues related to emergency protective custody.The protocols shall cover at a minimum information exchange between the department and local law enforcement agencies, consultation on decisions to assume legal custody, and the transfer of responsibility over the child, including mechanisms and assurances for the department to arrange expeditious placement of the child. SUBARTICLE 5. INTAKE AND INVESTIGATION DUTIES OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES SECTION 63-7-900. Purpose of the subarticle. (A) It is the purpose of this subarticle to encourage the voluntary acceptance of any service offered by the department in connection with child abuse and neglect or another problem of a nature affecting the stability of family life. (B) The department must be staffed adequately with persons trained in the investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect and in the provision of services to abused and neglected children and their families. (C) The department actively must seek the cooperation and involvement of local public and private institutions, groups, and programs concerned with matters of child protection and welfare within the area it serves. (D) In all instances, the agency must act in accordance with the policies, procedures, and regulations promulgated and distributed by the State Department of Social Services pursuant to this chapter. SECTION 63-7-910. Duties of the department. (A)(1) The Department of Social Services may maintain a toll-free number available to persons throughout the State for the referral of family-related problems, including: (a) the reporting of known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect; (b) other problems of a nature which may affect the stability of family life. (2) This telephone service shall operate continuously.Upon receipt of a call involving suspected abuse or neglect, the Department of Social Services shall transmit the full contents of the report to the appropriate county department office.Immediately upon transmitting the report the department shall destroy the contents of the suspected report.Upon receipt of a call involving other problems of a nature which may affect the stability of family life, the department shall refer the call to the appropriate county department office or other service agency where appropriate. (B) The department shall have within it a separate organizational unit administered within the department with qualified staff and resources sufficient to fulfill the purposes and functions assigned to it by this article. (C) The department's responsibilities shall include, but are not limited to: (1) assigning and monitoring initial child protection responsibility through periodic review of services offered throughout the State; (2) assisting in the diagnosis of child abuse and neglect; (3) coordinating referrals of known or suspected child abuse and neglect; (4) measuring the effectiveness of existing child protection programs and facilitating research, planning, and program development;and (5) establishing and monitoring a statewide Central Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect. (D) The department may contract for the delivery of protective services, family preservation services, foster care services, family reunification services, adoptions services, and other related services or programs.The department shall remain responsible for the quality of the services or programs and shall ensure that each contract contains provisions requiring the provider to deliver services in accordance with departmental policies and state and federal law. (E) The department may promulgate regulations and formulate policies and methods of administration to carry out effectively child protective services, activities, and responsibilities. SECTION 63-7-920. Investigations and case determination. (A)(1) Within twenty-four hours of the receipt of a report of suspected child abuse or neglect or within twenty-four hours after the department has assumed legal custody of a child pursuant to Section 63-7-660 or 63-7-670 or within twenty-four hours after being notified that a child has been t
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  • Title 63 - South Carolina Children's Code

    CHAPTER 7.

    CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY

    ARTICLE 1.

    GENERAL PROVISIONS

    SECTION 63-7-10. Purpose.

    (A) Any intervention by the State into family life on behalf of children must be guided by law, by strong philosophical underpinnings, and by sound professional standards for practice. Child welfare services must be based on these principles:

    (1) Parents have the primary responsibility for and are the primary resource for their children.

    (2) Children should have the opportunity to grow up in a family unit if at all possible.

    (3) State and community agencies have a responsibility to implement prevention programs aimed at identifying high risk families and to provide supportive intervention to reduce occurrence of maltreatment.

    (4) Services for families should be accessible and designed to encourage and enable families to adequately deal with their problems within their own family system.

    (5) All child welfare intervention by the State has as its primary goal the welfare and safety of the child.

    (6) Child welfare intervention into a family's life should be structured so as to avoid a child's entry into the protective service and foster care systems if at all possible.

    (7) The state's child welfare system must be designed to be child-centered, family-focused, community-based, and culturally competent in its prevention and protection efforts.

    (8) Neighborhoods and communities are the primary source of opportunities and supports for families and have a primary responsibility in assuring the safety and vitality of their members.

    (9) The Department of Social Services shall collaborate with the community to identify, support, and treat families in a nonthreatening manner, in both investigative and family assessment situations.

    (10) A family assessment approach, stressing the safety of the child, building on the strengths of the family, and identifying and treating the family's needs is the appropriate approach for cases not requiring law enforcement involvement or the removal of the child.

    (11) Only a comparatively small percentage of current child abuse and neglect reports are criminal in nature or will result in the removal of the child or alleged perpetrator.

    (12) Should removal of a child become necessary, the state's foster care system must be prepared to provide timely and appropriate placements for children with relatives or in licensed foster care settings and to establish a plan which reflects a commitment by the State to achieving permanency for the child within reasonable timelines.

    (13) The Department of Social Services staff who investigates serious child abuse and neglect reports with law enforcement must be competent in law enforcement procedures, fact finding, evidence gathering, and effective social intervention and assessment.

    (14) Services should be identified quickly and should build on the strengths and resources of families and communities.

    (B) It is the purpose of this chapter to:

    (1) acknowledge the different intervention needs of families;

    (2) establish an effective system of services throughout the State to safeguard the well-being and development of endangered children and to preserve and stabilize family life, whenever appropriate;

    (3) ensure permanency on a timely basis for children when removal from their homes is necessary;

    (4) establish fair and equitable procedures, compatible with due process of law to intervene in family life with due regard to the safety and welfare of all family members; and

    (5) establish an effective system of protection of children from injury and harm while living in public and private residential agencies and institutions meant to serve them.

    SECTION 63-7-20. Definitions.

    When used in this chapter or Chapter 9 or 11 and unless the specific context indicates otherwise:

    (1) "Abandonment of a child" means a parent or guardian wilfully deserts a child or wilfully surrenders physical possession of a child without making adequate arrangements for the child's needs or the continuing care of the child.

    (2) "Affirmative determination" means a finding by a preponderance of evidence that the child was abused or neglected by the person who is alleged or determined to have abused or neglected the child and who is mentioned by name in a report or finding. This finding may be made only by:

    (a) the court;

    (b) the Department of Social Services upon a final agency decision in its appeals process; or

    (c) waiver by the subject of the report of his right to appeal. If an affirmative determination is made by the court after an affirmative determination is made by the Department of Social Services, the court's finding must be the affirmative determination.

    (3) "Child" means a person under the age of eighteen.

    (4) "Child abuse or neglect" or "harm" occurs when the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare:

    (a) inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical or mental injury or engages in acts or omissions which present a substantial risk of physical or mental injury to the child, including injuries sustained as a result of excessive corporal punishment, but excluding corporal punishment or physical discipline which:

    (i) is administered by a parent or person in loco parentis;

    (ii) is perpetrated for the sole purpose of restraining or correcting the child;

    (iii) is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree;

    (iv) has not brought about permanent or lasting damage to the child; and

    (v) is not reckless or grossly negligent behavior by the parents.

    (b) commits or allows to be committed against the child a sexual offense as defined by the laws of this State or engages in acts or omissions that present a substantial risk that a sexual offense as defined in the laws of this State would be committed against the child;

    (c) fails to supply the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or education as required under Article 1 of Chapter 65 of Title 59, supervision appropriate to the child's age and development, or health care though financially able to do so or offered financial or other reasonable means to do so and the failure to do so has caused or presents a substantial risk of causing physical or mental injury. However, a child's absences from school may not be considered abuse or neglect unless the school has made efforts to bring about the child's attendance, and those efforts were unsuccessful because of the parents' refusal to cooperate. For the purpose of this chapter "adequate health care" includes any medical or nonmedical remedial health care permitted or authorized under state law;

    (d) abandons the child;

    (e) encourages, condones, or approves the commission of delinquent acts by the child and the commission of the acts are shown to be the result of the encouragement, condonation, or approval; or

    (f) has committed abuse or neglect as described in subsections (a) through (e) such that a child who subsequently becomes part of the person's household is at substantial risk of one of those forms of abuse or neglect.

    (5) "Child protective investigation" means an inquiry conducted by the department in response to a report of child abuse or neglect made pursuant to this chapter.

    (6) "Child protective services" means assistance provided by the department as a result of indicated reports or affirmative determinations of child abuse or neglect, including assistance ordered by the family court or consented to by the family. The objectives of child protective services are to:

    (a) protect the child's safety and welfare; and

    (b) maintain the child within the family unless the safety of the child requires placement outside the home.

    (7) "Court" means the family court.

    (8) "Department" means the Department of Social Services.

    (9) "Emergency protective custody" means the right to physical custody of a child for a temporary period of no more than twenty-four hours to protect the child from imminent danger.

    Emergency protective custody may be taken only by a law enforcement officer pursuant to this chapter.

    (10) "Guardianship of a child" means the duty and authority vested in a person by the family court to make certain decisions regarding a child, including:

    (a) consenting to a marriage, enlistment in the armed forces, and medical and surgical treatment;

    (b) representing a child in legal actions and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance affecting a child; and

    (c) rights and responsibilities of legal custody when legal custody has not been vested by the court in another person, agency, or institution.

    (11) "Indicated report" means a report of child abuse or neglect supported by facts which warrant a finding by a preponderance of evidence that abuse or neglect is more likely than not to have occurred.

    (12) "Institutional child abuse and neglect" means situations of known or suspected child abuse or neglect where the person responsible for the child's welfare is the employee of a public or private residential home, institution, or agency.

    (13) "Legal custody" means the right to the physical custody, care, and control of a child; the right to determine where the child shall live; the right and duty to provide protection, food, clothing, shelter, ordinary medical care, education, supervision, and discipline for a child and in an emergency to authorize surgery or other extraordinary care. The court may in its order place other rights and duties with the legal custodian. Unless otherwise provided by court order, the parent or guardian retains the right to make decisions of substantial legal significance affecting the child, including consent to a marriage, enlistment in the armed forces, and major nonemergency medical and surgical treatment, the obligation to provide financial support or other funds for the care of the child, and other residual rights or obligations as may be provided by order of the court.

    (14) "Mental injury" means an injury to the intellectual, emotional, or psychological capacity or functioning of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment of the child's ability to function when the existence of that impairment is supported by the opinion of a mental health professional or medical professional.

    (15) "Party in interest" includes the child, the child's attorney and guardian ad litem, the natural parent, an individual with physical or legal custody of the child, the foster parent, and the local foster care review board.

    (16) "Person responsible for a child's welfare" includes the child's parent, guardian, foster parent, an operator, employee, or caregiver, as defined by Section 63-13-20, of a public or private residential home, institution, agency, or childcare facility or an adult who has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child, but who does not necessarily have legal custody of the child. A person whose only role is as a caregiver and whose contact is only incidental with a child, such as a babysitter or a person who has only incidental contact but may not be a caretaker, has not assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian. An investigation pursuant to Section 63-7-920 must be initiated when the information contained in a report otherwise sufficient under this section does not establish whether the person has assumed the role or responsibility of a parent or guardian for the child.

    (17) "Physical custody" means the lawful, actual possession and control of a child.

    (18) "Physical injury" means death or permanent or temporary disfigurement or impairment of any bodily organ or function.

    (19) "Preponderance of evidence" means evidence which, when fairly considered, is more convincing as to its truth than the evidence in opposition.

    (20) "Probable cause" means facts and circumstances based upon accurate and reliable information, including hearsay, that would justify a reasonable person to believe that a child subject to a report under this chapter is abused or neglected.

    (21) "Protective services unit" means the unit established within the Department of Social Services which has prime responsibility for state efforts to strengthen and improve the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

    (22) "Subject of the report" means a person who is alleged or determined to have abused or neglected the child, who is mentioned by name in a report or finding.

    (23) "Suspected report" means all initial reports of child abuse or neglect received pursuant to this chapter.

    (24) "Unfounded report" means a report made pursuant to this chapter for which there is not a preponderance of evidence to believe that the child is abused or neglected. For the purposes of this chapter, it is presumed that all reports are unfounded unless the department determines otherwise.

    SECTION 63-7-30. Seeking assistance.

    A person seeking assistance in meeting child care responsibilities may use the services and facilities established by this chapter, including the single statewide telephone number and local child protective services where available. These persons must be referred to appropriate community resources or agencies, notwithstanding whether the problem presented involves child abuse or neglect.

    SECTION 63-7-40. Safe haven for abandoned babies.

    (A) A safe haven in this State must, without a court order, take temporary physical custody of an infant who is voluntarily left with the safe haven by a person who does not express an intent to return for the infant and the circumstances give rise to a reasonable belief that the person does not intend to return for the infant. If the safe haven is a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, the hospital or hospital facility shall perform any act necessary to protect the physical health or safety of the infant; any other safe haven shall, as soon as possible, but no later than six hours after receiving an infant, transport the infant to a hospital or hospital outpatient facility. The person leaving the infant is not required to disclose his or her identity; however, the person must leave the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or employee of the safe haven.

    (B)(1) The safe haven must offer the person leaving the infant information concerning the legal effect of leaving the infant with the safe haven.

    (2) The safe haven must ask the person leaving the infant to identify any parent of the infant other than the person leaving the infant with the safe haven. The safe haven also must attempt to obtain from the person information concerning the infant's background and medical history as specified on a form provided by the Department of Social Services. This information includes, but is not limited to, information concerning the use of a controlled substance by the infant's mother, provided that information regarding the use of a controlled substance by the infant's mother is not admissible as evidence of the unlawful use of a controlled substance in any court proceeding. The safe haven shall give the person a copy of the form and a prepaid envelope for mailing the form to the Department of Social Services if the person does not wish to provide the information to the safe haven. These materials must be provided to safe havens by the department.

    (3) Any identifying information disclosed by the person leaving the infant must be kept confidential by the safe haven and disclosed to no one other than the department. However, if a court determines that the immunity provisions of subsection (H) do not apply, the safe haven may disclose the information as permitted by confidentiality protections applicable to records of the safe haven, if the safe haven has such confidentiality protections for records. The department shall maintain confidentiality of this information in accordance with Section 63-7-1990.

    (C) Not later than the close of the first business day after the date on which a hospital or hospital outpatient facility takes possession of an infant pursuant to subsection (A), the hospital or hospital outpatient facility shall notify the department that it has taken temporary physical custody of the infant. The department has legal custody of the infant immediately upon receipt of the notice. The department shall assume physical control of the infant as soon as practicable upon receipt of the notice, but no later than twenty-four hours after receiving notice that the infant is ready for discharge from the hospital or hospital outpatient facility. Assumption of custody by the department pursuant to this subsection does not constitute emergency protective custody, and the provisions of Subarticle 3 of Article 3 do not apply. The department is not required to initiate a child protective services investigation solely because an infant comes into its custody under this subsection.

    (D) Immediately after receiving notice from a hospital or hospital outpatient facility pursuant to subsection (C), the department shall contact the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division for assistance in assuring that the infant is not a missing infant. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division shall treat the request as ongoing for a period of thirty days and shall contact the department if a missing infant report is received that might relate to the infant.

    (E)(1) Within forty-eight hours after taking legal custody of the infant, the department shall publish notice, in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the safe haven that initially took the infant is located, and send a news release to broadcast and print media in the area. The notice and the news release must state the circumstances under which the infant was left at the safe haven, a description of the infant, and the date, time, and place of the permanency planning hearing provided for in subsection (E)(2). The notice and the news release must also state that any person wishing to assert parental rights in regard to the infant must do so at the hearing. If the person leaving the infant identified anyone as being a parent of the infant, the notice must be sent by certified mail to the last known address of the person identified as a parent at least two weeks prior to the hearing.

    (2) Within forty-eight hours after obtaining legal custody of the infant, the department shall file a petition alleging that the infant has been abandoned, that the court should dispense with reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify the family, that continuation of keeping the infant in the home of the parent or parents would be contrary to the welfare of the infant, and that termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the infant. A hearing on the petition must be held no earlier than thirty and no later than sixty days after the department takes legal custody of the infant. This hearing is the permanency planning hearing for the infant. If the court approves the permanent plan of termination of parental rights, the order must also provide that a petition for termination of parental rights on the grounds of abandonment must be filed within ten days after receipt of the order by the department.

    (F) The act of leaving an infant with a safe haven pursuant to this section is conclusive evidence that the infant has been abused or neglected for purposes of Department of Social Services' jurisdiction and for evidentiary purposes in any judicial proceeding in which abuse or neglect of an infant is an issue. It is also conclusive evidence that the requirements for termination of parental rights have been satisfied as to any parent who left the infant or acted in concert with the person leaving the infant.

    (G) A person who leaves an infant at a safe haven or directs another person to do so must not be prosecuted for any criminal offense on account of such action if:

    (1) the person is a parent of the infant or is acting at the direction of a parent;

    (2) the person leaves the infant in the physical custody of a staff member or an employee of the safe haven; and

    (3) the infant is not more than thirty days old or the infant is reasonably determined by the hospital or hospital outpatient facility to be not more than thirty days old.

    This subsection does not apply to prosecution for the infliction of any harm upon the infant other than the harm inherent in abandonment.

    (H) A safe haven and its agents, and any health care professionals practicing within a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, are immune from civil or criminal liability for any action authorized by this section, so long as the safe haven, or health care professional, complies with all provisions of this section.

    (I) The department, either alone or in collaboration with any other public entity, shall take appropriate measures to achieve public awareness of the provisions of this section.

    (J) For purposes of this section:

    (1) "infant" means a person not more than thirty days old; and

    (2) "safe haven" means a hospital or hospital outpatient facility, a law enforcement agency, a fire station, an emergency medical services station, or any staffed house of worship during hours when the facility is staffed.

    (K) Annually the department shall submit a report to the General Assembly containing data on infants who come into the custody of the department pursuant to this section. The data must include, but are not limited to, the date, time, and place where the infant was left, the hospital to which the infant was taken, the health of the infant at the time of being admitted to the hospital, disposition and placement of the infant, and, if available, circumstances surrounding the infant being left at the safe haven. No data in the report may contain identifying information.

    ARTICLE 3.

    IDENTIFICATION, INVESTIGATION, AND INTERVENTION

    SUBARTICLE 1.

    IDENTIFYING AND REPORTING CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT

    SECTION 63-7-310. Persons required to report.

    (A) A physician, nurse, dentist, optometrist, medical examiner, or coroner, or an employee of a county medical examiner's or coroner's office, or any other medical, emergency medical services, mental health, or allied health professional, member of the clergy including a Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, school teacher, counselor, principal, assistant principal, social or public assistance worker, substance abuse treatment staff, or childcare worker in a childcare center or foster care facility, police or law enforcement officer, undertaker, funeral home director or employee of a funeral home, persons responsible for processing films, computer technician, or a judge must report in accordance with this section when in the person's professional capacity the person has received information which gives the person reason to believe that a child has been or may be abused or neglected as defined in Section 63-7-20.

    (B) If a person required to report pursuant to subsection (A) has received information in the person's professional capacity which gives the person reason to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by acts or omissions that would be child abuse or neglect if committed by a parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare, but the reporter believes that the act or omission was committed by a person other than the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child's welfare, the reporter must make a report to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

    (C) Except as provided in subsection (A), any person who has reason to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse and neglect may report in accordance with this section.

    (D) Reports of child abuse or neglect may be made orally by telephone or otherwise to the county department of social services or to a law enforcement agency in the county where the child resides or is found.

    SECTION 63-7-320. Notification and transfer.

    (A) Where reports are made pursuant to Section 63-7-310 to a law enforcement agency, the law enforcement agency shall notify the county department of social services of the law enforcement's response to the report at the earliest possible time.

    (B) Where a county or contiguous counties have established multicounty child protective services, the county department of social services immediately shall transfer reports pursuant to this section to the service.

    SECTION 63-7-330. Confidentiality of information.

    (A) The identity of the person making a report pursuant to this section must be kept confidential by the agency or department receiving the report and must not be disclosed except as provided for in subsection (B) or (C) or as otherwise provided for in this chapter.

    (B) When the department refers a report to a law enforcement agency for a criminal investigation, the department must inform the law enforcement agency of the identity of the person who reported the child abuse or neglect. The identity of the reporter must only be used by the law enforcement agency to further the criminal investigation arising from the report, and the agency must not disclose the reporter's identity to any person other than an employee of the agency who is involved in the criminal investigation arising from the report. If the reporter testifies in a criminal proceeding arising from the report, it must not be disclosed that the reporter made the report.

    (C) When a law enforcement agency refers a report to the department for an investigation or other response, the law enforcement agency must inform the department of the identity of the person who reported the child abuse or neglect. The department must not disclose the identity of the reporter to any person except as authorized by Section 63-7-1990.

    SECTION 63-7-340. Previous reports.

    When a report is referred to the department for an investigation or other response, the department must determine whether previous reports have been made regarding the same child or the same subject of the report. In determining whether previous reports have been made, the department must determine whether there are any suspected, indicated, or unfounded reports maintained pursuant to Section 63-7-930 regarding the same child or the same subject of the report.

    SECTION 63-7-350. Reports for lack of investigation.

    If the department does not conduct an investigation as a result of information received pursuant to this subarticle, the department must make a record of the information and must classify the record as a Category IV unfounded report in accordance with Section 63-7-930. The department and law enforcement are authorized to use information recorded pursuant to this section for purposes of assessing risk and safety if additional contacts are made concerning the child, the family, or the subject of the report.

    SECTION 63-7-360. Mandatory reporting to coroner.

    A person required under Section 63-7-310 to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, including workers of the department, who has reason to believe a child has died as the result of child abuse or neglect, shall report this information to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner. Any other person who has reason to believe that a child has died as a result of child abuse or neglect may report this information to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner. The medical examiner or coroner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report his findings to the appropriate law enforcement agency, circuit solicitor's office, the county department of social services and, if the institution making a report is a hospital, to the hospital.

    SECTION 63-7-370. Domestic violence reporting.

    The law enforcement officer upon receipt of a report of domestic violence may report this information to the Department of Social Services. The department may treat the case as suspected report of abuse and may investigate the case as in other allegations of abuse in order to determine if the child has been harmed.

    SECTION 63-7-380. Photos and x-rays without parental consent.

    A person required to report under Section 63-7-310 may take, or cause to be taken, color photographs of the areas of trauma visible on a child who is the subject of a report and, if medically indicated, a physician may cause to be performed a radiological examination or other medical examinations or tests of the child without the consent of the child's parents or guardians. Copies of all photographs, negatives, radiological, and other medical reports must be sent to the department at the time a report pursuant to Section 63-7-310 is made, or as soon as reasonably possible after the report is made.

    SECTION 63-7-390. Reporter immunity from liability.

    A person required or permitted to report pursuant to Section 63-7-310 or who participates in an investigation or judicial proceedings resulting from the report, acting in good faith, is immune from civil and criminal liability which might otherwise result by reason of these actions. In all such civil or criminal proceedings, good faith is rebuttably presumed. Immunity under this section extends to full disclosure by the person of facts which gave the person reason to believe that the child's physical or mental health or welfare had been or might be adversely affected by abuse or neglect.

    SECTION 63-7-400. Department of Social Services immunity from liability.

    An employee, volunteer, or official of the Department of Social Services required or authorized to perform child protective or child welfare-related functions or an individual with whom the department has contracted to convene family group conferences or a law enforcement officer required or authorized to perform child protective or child welfare related functions is immune from civil or criminal liability which might otherwise result by reason of acts or omissions within the scope of the official duties of the employee, volunteer, convener, officer, or official, as long as the employee, volunteer, convener, officer, or official acted in good faith and was not reckless, wilful, wanton, or grossly negligent. In all such civil or criminal proceedings good faith is rebuttably presumed. This grant of immunity is cumulative to and does not replace any other immunity provided under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.

    SECTION 63-7-410. Failure to report; penalties.

    A person required to report a case of child abuse or neglect or a person required to perform any other function under this article who knowingly fails to do so, or a person who threatens or attempts to intimidate a witness is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

    SECTION 63-7-420. Abrogation of privileged communication; exceptions.

    The privileged quality of communication between husband and wife and any professional person and his patient or client, except that between attorney and client or clergy member, including Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, and penitent, is abrogated and does not constitute grounds for failure to report or the exclusion of evidence in a civil protective proceeding resulting from a report pursuant to this article. However, a clergy member, including Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, must report in accordance with this subarticle except when information is received from the alleged perpetrator of the abuse and neglect during a communication that is protected by the clergy and penitent privilege as provided for in Section 19-11-90.

    SECTION 63-7-430. Civil action for bad faith reporting.

    (A) If the family court determines pursuant to Section 63-7-2000 that a person has made a report of suspected child abuse or neglect maliciously or in bad faith or if a person has been found guilty of making a false report pursuant to Section 63-7-440, the department may bring a civil action to recover the costs of the department's investigation and proceedings associated with the investigation, including attorney's fees. The department also is entitled to recover costs and attorney's fees incurred in the civil action authorized by this section. The decision of whether to bring a civil action pursuant to this section is in the sole discretion of the department.

    (B) If the family court determines pursuant to Section 63-7-2000 that a person has made a false report of suspected child abuse or neglect maliciously or in bad faith or if a person has been found guilty of making a false report pursuant to Section 63-7-440, a person who was subject of the false report has a civil cause of action against the person who made the false report and is entitled to recover from the person who made the false report such relief as may be appropriate, including:

    (1) actual damages;

    (2) punitive damages; and

    (3) a reasonable attorney's fee and other litigation costs reasonably incurred.

    SECTION 63-7-440. Knowingly making false report.

    (A) It is unlawful to knowingly make a false report of abuse or neglect.

    (B) A person who violates subsection (A) is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than ninety days, or both.

    SECTION 63-7-450. Department of Social Services to provide information to public.

    (A) The Department of Social Services Protective Services shall inform all persons required to report under this subarticle of the nature, problem, and extent of child abuse and neglect and of their duties and responsibilities in accordance with this article. The department also, on a continuing basis, shall conduct training programs for department staff and appropriate training for persons required to report under this subarticle.

    (B) The department, on a continuing basis, shall inform the public of the nature, problem, and extent of the child abuse and neglect and of the remedial and therapeutic services available to children and their families. The department shall encourage families to seek help consistent with Section 63-7-30.

    (C) The department, on a continuing basis, shall actively publicize the appropriate telephone numbers to receive reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, including the twenty-four hour, statewide, toll-free telephone service and respective numbers of the county department offices.

    SUBARTICLE 3.

    EMERGENCY PROTECTIVE CUSTODY

    SECTION 63-7-610. Statewide jurisdiction.

    (A) A law enforcement officer investigating a case of suspected child abuse or neglect or responding to a request for assistance by the department as it investigates a case of suspected child abuse or neglect has authority to take emergency protective custody of the child pursuant to this subarticle in all counties and municipalities.

    (B) Immediately upon taking emergency protective custody, the law enforcement officer shall notify the local office of the department responsible to the county in which the activity under investigation occurred.

    (C) The department shall designate by policy and procedure the local department office responsible for procedures required by this subarticle when a child resides in a county other than the one in which the activity under investigation occurred. The probable cause hearing required by Section 63-7-710 may be held in the county of the child's residence or the county of the law enforcement officer's jurisdiction.

    SECTION 63-7-620. Emergency protective custody.

    (A) A law enforcement officer may take emergency protective custody of a child without the consent of the child's parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child if:

    (1) the officer has probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect the child's life, health, or physical safety is in substantial and imminent danger if the child is not taken into emergency protective custody, and there is not time to apply for a court order pursuant to Section 63-7-1660. When a child is taken into emergency protective custody following an incident of excessive corporal punishment, and the only injury to the child is external lesions or minor bruises, other children in the home shall not be taken into emergency protective custody solely on account of the injury of one child through excessive corporal punishment. However, the officer may take emergency protective custody of other children in the home if a threat of harm to them is further indicated by factors including, but not limited to, a prior history of domestic violence or other abuse in the home, alcohol or drug abuse if known or evident at the time of the initial contact, or other circumstances indicative of danger to the children;

    (2) the child's parent, parents, or guardian has been arrested or the child has become lost accidentally and as a result the child's welfare is threatened due to loss of adult protection and supervision; and

    (a) in the circumstances of arrest, the parent, parents, or guardian does not consent in writing to another person assuming physical custody of the child;

    (b) in the circumstances of a lost child, a search by law enforcement has not located the parent, parents, or guardian.

    (B)(1) If the child is in need of emergency medical care at the time the child is taken into emergency protective custody, the officer shall transport the child to an appropriate health care facility. Emergency medical care may be provided to the child without consent, as provided in Section 63-5-350. The parent or guardian is responsible for the cost of emergency medical care that is provided to the child. However, the parent or guardian is not responsible for the cost of medical examinations performed at the request of law enforcement or the department solely for the purpose of assessing whether the child has been abused or neglected unless it is determined that the child has been harmed as defined in this chapter.

    (2) If the child is not in need of emergency medical care, the officer or the department shall transport the child to a place agreed upon by the department and law enforcement, and the department within two hours shall assume physical control of the child and shall place the child in a licensed foster home or shelter within a reasonable period of time. In no case may the child be placed in a jail or other secure facility or a facility for the detention of criminal or juvenile offenders. While the child is in its custody, the department shall provide for the needs of the child and assure that a child of school age who is physically able to do so continues attending school.

    SECTION 63-7-630. Notification of Department of Social Services.

    When an officer takes a child into emergency protective custody under this subarticle, the officer immediately shall notify the department. The department shall notify the parent, guardian, or other person exercising temporary or permanent control over the child as early as reasonably possible of the location of the child unless there are compelling reasons for believing that disclosure of this information would be contrary to the best interests of the child.

    SECTION 63-7-640. Preliminary investigation.

    The department shall conduct within twenty-four hours after the child is taken into emergency protective custody by law enforcement or pursuant to ex parte order a preliminary investigation to determine whether grounds for assuming legal custody of the child exist and whether reasonable means exist for avoiding removal of the child from the home of the parent or guardian or for placement of the child with a relative and means for minimizing the emotional impact on the child of separation from the child's home and family. During this time the department, if possible, shall convene, a meeting with the child's parents or guardian, extended family, and other relevant persons to discuss the family's problems that led to intervention and possible corrective actions, including placement of the child.

    SECTION 63-7-650. Risk assessment before placement.

    Before agreeing to or acquiescing in a corrective action that involves placement of the child with a relative or other person or making an interim placement with a relative while retaining custody of the child or as soon as possible after agreeing to or acquiescing in a corrective action, the department shall secure from the relative or other person and other adults in the home an affidavit attesting to information necessary to determine whether a criminal history or history of child abuse or neglect exists and whether this history indicates there is a significant risk that the child would be threatened with abuse or neglect in the home of the relative or other person. As soon as possible, the department shall confirm the information supplied in the affidavit by checking the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect, other relevant department records, county sex offender registries, and records for the preceding five years of law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction in which the relative or other person resides and, to the extent reasonably possible, jurisdictions in which the relative or other person has resided during that period. The department must not agree to or acquiesce in a placement if the affidavit or these records reveal information indicating there is a significant risk that the child would be threatened with abuse or neglect in the home of the relative or other person. The relative or other person must consent to a check of the above records by the department.

    SECTION 63-7-660. Assumption of legal custody.

    If the department determines after the preliminary investigation that there is probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect the child's life, health, or physical safety is in imminent and substantial danger, the department may assume legal custody of the child without the consent of the child's parent, guardian, or custodian. The department shall make every reasonable effort to notify the child's parent, guardian, or custodian of the location of the child and shall make arrangements for temporary visitation unless there are compelling reasons why visitation or notice of the location of the child would be contrary to the best interests of the child. The notification must be in writing and shall include notice of the right to a hearing and right to counsel pursuant to this article. Nothing in this section authorizes the department to physically remove a child from the care of the child's parent or guardian without an order of the court. The department may exercise the authority to assume legal custody only after a law enforcement officer has taken emergency protective custody of the child or the family court has granted emergency protective custody by ex parte order, and the department has conducted a preliminary investigation pursuant to Section 63-7-640.

    SECTION 63-7-670. Returning child to parents; alternative procedures.

    If emergency protective custody of the child was taken by a law enforcement officer pursuant to this subarticle, and the department concludes after the preliminary investigation that the child should be returned to the child's parent, guardian, or custodian, the department shall consult with the law enforcement officer who took emergency protective custody unless the department and the law enforcement agency have agreed to an alternative procedure. If the officer objects to the return of the child, the department must assume legal custody of the child until a probable cause hearing can be held. The alternative procedure agreed to by the department and the law enforcement agency may provide that the child must be retained in custody if the officer cannot be contacted, conditions under which the child may be returned home if the officer cannot be contacted, other persons within the law enforcement agency who are to be consulted instead of the officer, or other procedures. If no alternative procedure has been agreed to and the department is unable to contact the law enforcement officer after reasonable efforts to do so, the department shall consult with the officer's designee or the officer's agency.

    SECTION 63-7-680. Emergency protective custody extension.

    The period of emergency protective custody may be extended for up to twenty-four additional hours if:

    (1) the department concludes that the child is to be placed with a relative or other person instead of taking legal custody of the child;

    (2) the department requests the appropriate law enforcement agency to check for records concerning the relative or other person, or any adults in that person's home; and

    (3) the law enforcement agency notifies the department that the extension is needed to enable the law enforcement agency to complete its record check before the department's decision on whether to take legal custody of the child.

    SECTION 63-7-690. Relative placement.

    (A) If within the twenty-four hours following removal of the child:

    (1) the department has identified a specified relative or other person with whom it has determined that the child is to be placed instead of the department's taking legal custody of the child; and

    (2) both the relative or other person with whom the child is to be placed and the child's parent or guardian have agreed to the placement, the department may retain physical custody of the child for no more than five additional days if necessary to enable the relative or other person to make travel or other arrangements incident to the placement.

    (B) A probable cause hearing pursuant to Section 63-7-710 shall not be held unless the placement fails to occur as planned within the five-day period or the child's parent or guardian makes a written request for a hearing to the department. The department must give the child's parent or guardian written notice of the right to request a probable cause hearing to obtain a judicial determination of whether removal of the child from the home was and remains necessary. Upon receipt of a written request for a hearing from the child's parent or guardian, the department shall schedule a hearing for the next date on which the family court is scheduled to hear probable cause hearings.

    (C) If the placement does not occur as planned within the five-day period, the department immediately must determine whether to assume legal custody of the child and file a petition as provided in Section 63-7-700(B). The department shall assure that the child is given age-appropriate information about the plans for placement and any subsequent changes in those plans at the earliest feasible time.

    SECTION 63-7-700. Emergency protective custody proceedings.

    (A) If a law enforcement officer clearly states to the department at the time the officer delivers physical control of the child to the department that the child is not to be returned to the home or placed with a relative before a probable cause hearing regardless of the outcome of a preliminary investigation, the department immediately must take legal custody of the child. In this case, at a minimum, the department shall conduct a preliminary investigation as provided in Section 63-7-640 within seventy-two hours after the child was taken into emergency protective custody and shall make recommendations concerning return of the child to the home or placement with a relative or other person to the family court at the probable cause hearing or take other appropriate action as provided in this chapter.

    (B)(1) The department, upon assuming legal custody of the child, shall begin a child protective investigation, including immediate attention to the protection of other children in the home, or other setting where the child was found. The department shall initiate a removal proceeding in the appropriate family court pursuant to Section 63-7-1660 on or before the next working day after initiating the investigation. If a noncustodial parent is not named as a party, the department shall exercise every reasonable effort to promptly notify the noncustodial parent that a removal proceeding has been initiated and of the date and time of any hearings scheduled pursuant to this subarticle.

    (2) Upon a determination by the department before the probable cause hearing that there is not a preponderance of evidence that child abuse or neglect occurred, the department may place physical custody of the child with the parent, parents, guardian, immediate family member, or relative, with the department retaining legal custody pending the probable cause hearing.

    (3) When the facts and circumstances of the report clearly indicate that no abuse or neglect occurred, the report promptly must be determined to be unfounded, and the department shall exercise reasonable efforts to expedite the placement of the child with the parent, parents, guardian, immediate family member, or relative.

    (C) If the child is returned to the child's parent, guardian, or custodian following the preliminary investigation, a probable cause hearing must be held if requested by the child's parent, guardian, or custodian or the department or the law enforcement agency that took emergency protective custody of the child. The request must be made in writing to the court within ten days after the child is returned. A probable cause hearing pursuant to Section 63-7-710 must be scheduled within seven days of the request to determine whether there was probable cause to take emergency physical custody of the child.

    SECTION 63-7-710. Probable cause hearing.

    (A) The family court shall schedule a probable cause hearing to be held within seventy-two hours of the time the child was taken into emergency protective custody. If the third day falls upon a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, the probable cause hearing must be held no later than the next working day. If there is no term of court in the county when the probable cause hearing must be held, the hearing must be held in another county in the circuit. If there is no term of family court in another county in the circuit, the probable cause hearing may be heard in another court in an adjoining circuit.

    (B) The probable cause hearing may be conducted by video conference at the discretion of the judge.

    (C) At the probable cause hearing, the family court shall undertake to fulfill the requirements of Section 63-7-1620 and shall determine whether there was probable cause for taking emergency protective custody and for the department to assume legal custody of the child and shall determine whether probable cause to retain legal custody of the child remains at the time of the hearing.

    (D) At the probable cause hearing, the respondents may submit affidavits as to facts which are alleged to form the basis of the removal and to cross-examine the department's witnesses as to whether there existed probable cause to effect emergency removal.

    (E) The hearing on the merits to determine whether removal of custody is needed, pursuant to Section 63-7-1660, must be held within thirty-five days of the date of receipt of the removal petition. At the probable cause hearing, the court shall set the time and date for the hearing on the merits. A party may request a continuance that would result in the hearing being held more than thirty-five days after the petition was filed, and the court may grant the request for continuance only if exceptional circumstances exist. If a continuance is granted, the hearing on the merits must be completed within sixty-five days following receipt of the removal petition. The court may continue the hearing on the merits beyond sixty-five days without returning the child to the home only if the court issues a written order with findings of fact supporting a determination that the following conditions are satisfied, regardless of whether the parties have agreed to a continuance:

    (1) the court finds that the child should remain in the custody of the department because there is probable cause to believe that returning the child to the home would seriously endanger the child's physical safety or emotional well-being;

    (2) the court schedules the case for trial on a date and time certain which is not more than thirty days after the date the hearing was scheduled to be held; and

    (3) the court finds that exceptional circumstances support the continuance or the parties and the guardian ad litem agree to a continuance.

    (F) The court may continue the case past the date and time certain set forth in subsection (E) only if the court issues a new order as required in subsection (E).

    (G) The court may continue the case because a witness is unavailable only if the court enters a finding of fact that the court cannot decide the case without the testimony of the witness. The court shall consider and rule on whether the hearing can begin and then recess to have the witness' testimony taken at a later date or by deposition. The court shall rule on whether the party offering the witness has exercised due diligence to secure the presence of the witness or to preserve the witness' testimony.

    (H) This section does not prevent the court from conducting a pendente lite hearing on motion of any party and issuing an order granting other appropriate relief pending a hearing on the merits.

    (I) If the child is returned to the home pending the merits hearing, the court may impose such terms and conditions as it determines appropriate to protect the child from harm, including measures to protect the child as a witness.

    (J) When a continuance is granted pursuant to this section, the family court shall ensure that the hearing is rescheduled within the time limits provided in this section and give the hearing priority over other matters pending before the court except a probable cause hearing held pursuant to this section, a detention hearing held pursuant to Section 63-19-830, or a hearing held pursuant to Section 63-19-1030 or 63-19-1210 concerning a child who is in state custody pursuant to Chapter 19. An exception also may be made for child custody hearings if the court, in its discretion, makes a written finding stating compelling reasons, relating to the welfare of the child, for giving priority to the custody hearing.

    SECTION 63-7-720. Reasonable efforts to prevent removal.

    (A) An order issued as a result of the probable cause hearing held pursuant to Section 63-7-710 concerning a child of whom the department has assumed legal custody shall contain a finding by the court of whether reasonable efforts were made by the department to prevent removal of the child and a finding of whether continuation of the child in the home would be contrary to the welfare of the child. The order shall state:

    (1) the services made available to the family before the department assumed legal custody of the child and how they related to the needs of the family;

    (2) the efforts of the department to provide services to the family before assuming legal custody of the child;

    (3) why the efforts to provide services did not eliminate the need for the department to assume legal custody;

    (4) whether a meeting was convened as provided in Section 63-7-640, the persons present, and the outcome of the meeting or, if no meeting was held, the reason for not holding a meeting;

    (5) what efforts were made to place the child with a relative known to the child or in another familiar environment;

    (6) whether the efforts to eliminate the need for the department to assume legal custody were reasonable including, but not limited to, whether services were reasonably available and timely, reasonably adequate to address the needs of the family, reasonably adequate to protect the child and realistic under the circumstances, and whether efforts to place the child in a familiar environment were reasonable.

    (B) If the court finds that reasonable services would not have allowed the child to remain safely in the home, the court shall find that removal of the child without services or without further services was reasonable.

    SECTION 63-7-730. Expedited relative placement.

    If the court orders the child to remain in the legal custody of the department at the probable cause hearing, the family court may order expedited placement of the child with a relative of the first or second degree. The court shall require the department to check the names of all adults in the home against the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect, other relevant records of the department, county sex abuse registers, and records for the preceding five years of law enforcement agencies in the jurisdiction in which the person resides and, to the extent reasonably possible, jurisdictions in which the person has resided during that period. The court may hold open the record of the probable cause hearing for twenty-four hours to receive the reports and based on these reports and other information introduced at the probable cause hearing, the court may order expedited placement of the child in the home of the relative. Nothing in this section precludes the department from requesting or the court from ordering pursuant to the department's request either a full study of the relative's home before placement or the licensing or approval of the relative's home before placement.

    SECTION 63-7-740. Ex parte emergency protective custody.

    (A) The family court may order ex parte that a child be taken into emergency protective custody without the consent of parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child if:

    (1) the family court judge determines there is probable cause to believe that by reason of abuse or neglect there exists an imminent and substantial danger to the child's life, health, or physical safety; and

    (2) parents, guardians, or others exercising temporary or permanent control over the child are unavailable or do not consent to the child's removal from their custody.

    (B) If the court issues such an order, the department shall conduct a preliminary investigation and otherwise proceed as provided in this subarticle.

    SECTION 63-7-750. Doctor or hospital may detain child; civil immunity.

    (A) A physician or hospital to which a child has been brought for treatment may detain the child for up to twenty-four hours without the consent of the person responsible for the child's welfare if the physician or hospital:

    (1) has reason to believe that the child has been abused or neglected;

    (2) has made a report to a law enforcement agency and the department pursuant to Section 63-7-310, stating the time the physician notified the agency or department that the child was being detained until a law enforcement officer could arrive to determine whether the officer should take emergency physical custody of the child pursuant to Subarticle 3; and

    (3) has reason to believe that release of the child to the child's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker presents an imminent danger to the child's life, health, or physical safety. A hospital must designate a qualified person or persons within the hospital who shall have sole authority to detain a child on behalf of the hospital.

    (B) A physician or hospital that detains a child in good faith as provided in this section is immune from civil or criminal liability for detaining the child.

    SECTION 63-7-760. Protocols.

    The department and local law enforcement agencies shall develop written protocols to address issues related to emergency protective custody. The protocols shall cover at a minimum information exchange between the department and local law enforcement agencies, consultation on decisions to assume legal custody, and the transfer of responsibility over the child, including mechanisms and assurances for the department to arrange expeditious placement of the child.

    SUBARTICLE 5.

    INTAKE AND INVESTIGATION DUTIES OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

    SECTION 63-7-900. Purpose of the subarticle.

    (A) It is the purpose of this subarticle to encourage the voluntary acceptance of any service offered by the department in connection with child abuse and neglect or another problem of a nature affecting the stability of family life.

    (B) The department must be staffed adequately with persons trained in the investigation of suspected child abuse and neglect and in the provision of services to abused and neglected children and their families.

    (C) The department actively must seek the cooperation and involvement of local public and private institutions, groups, and programs concerned with matters of child protection and welfare within the area it serves.

    (D) In all instances, the agency must act in accordance with the policies, procedures, and regulations promulgated and distributed by the State Department of Social Services pursuant to this chapter.

    SECTION 63-7-910. Duties of the department.

    (A)(1) The Department of Social Services may maintain a toll-free number available to persons throughout the State for the referral of family-related problems, including:

    (a) the reporting of known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect;

    (b) other problems of a nature which may affect the stability of family life.

    (2) This telephone service shall operate continuously. Upon receipt of a call involving suspected abuse or neglect, the Department of Social Services shall transmit the full contents of the report to the appropriate county department office. Immediately upon transmitting the report the department shall destroy the contents of the suspected report. Upon receipt of a call involving other problems of a nature which may affect the stability of family life, the department shall refer the call to the appropriate county department office or other service agency where appropriate.

    (B) The department shall have within it a separate organizational unit administered within the department with qualified staff and resources sufficient to fulfill the purposes and functions assigned to it by this article.

    (C) The department's responsibilities shall include, but are not limited to:

    (1) assigning and monitoring initial child protection responsibility through periodic review of services offered throughout the State;

    (2) assisting in the diagnosis of child abuse and neglect;

    (3) coordinating referrals of known or suspected child abuse and neglect;

    (4) measuring the effectiveness of existing child protection programs and facilitating research, planning, and program development; and

    (5) establishing and monitoring a statewide Central Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect.

    (D) The department may contract for the delivery of protective services, family preservation services, foster care services, family reunification services, adoptions services, and other related services or programs. The department shall remain responsible for the quality of the services or programs and shall ensure that each contract contains provisions requiring the provider to deliver services in accordance with departmental policies and state and federal law.

    (E) The department may promulgate regulations and formulate policies and methods of administration to carry out effectively child protective services, activities, and responsibilities.

    SECTION 63-7-920. Investigations and case determination.

    (A)(1) Within twenty-four hours of the receipt of a report of suspected child abuse or neglect or within twenty-four hours after the department has assumed legal custody of a child pursuant to Section 63-7-660 or 63-7-670 or within twenty-four hours after being notified that a child has been t

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