DSS substantiation refers to a finding a department of social services makes when an investigation supports an allegation of abuse or neglect. Most commonly these findings refer to child maltreatment, although some states use similar terminology for cases of elder abuse. A DSS substantiation is very serious, and in some cases it may mean your child may be removed from your home and your name could go into a registry of abusers.


Departments of social services, and commonly child protective services, receive thousands of reports alleging that a child has been abused or neglected. DSS units investigate those claims and render a disposition or finding about allegations based on the standards of evidence stipulated in state law. Of the possible dispositions or conclusions, the most serious is "substantiated." This means that after investigating, DSS believes that the allegation was of maltreatment or that the risk of maltreatment is supported by state law in your case. If you have been notified by DSS that your case has been substantiated, it means you or the named party was responsible for a child who was abused or neglected.

Reports & Referrals

According to "Child Maltreatment 2009," an annual report of child abuse and neglect cases, social services agencies received an estimated 3.3 million referrals, involving allegations of maltreatment of 6 million children. About 61.9 percent were placed in queue to receive an official agency response. Nearly 1/4 of those responses determined that at least one child was a victim of abuse and neglect. Specifically, 22.1 percent were substantiated. The remainder had dispositions that essentially meant there wasn't enough evidence to substantiate the matter under state law but there was a likelihood that a child was at risk.

Types of Substantiated Cases

Most cases reported in fiscal year 2009, or 78.3 percent, were substantiated because of neglect. Physical abuse was behind 17.8 percent of cases. Sexual abuse accounted for 9.5 percent of cases and 7.6 percent of substantiated cases were for psychological maltreatment. Many children suffered from more than one form of maltreatment. An estimated 1,770 children died from maltreatment.

What Happens Next?

State law varies on what happens after a case is substantiated, and a lot depends on the severity of the case. For example, the social service agency may recommend to a court that your family participate in a set of services. These could include activities such as parenting classes or counseling when the risk level is such that the child will be safe if he or she stays in your home. If the risk to your child is high, the agency could get a protective order that will allow your child to stay at home provided you abide by ordered stipulations, such as physical discipline is barred, submitting to drug tests is required, or contact with any other person who may be harming your child is prohibited. In some cases, the matter may be severe enough that proceedings to remove your child from your home may be started.

Appealing Substantiation

You may have the right to appeal a substantiated disposition. The documentation you receive should specify how to do so. In many states, a substantiation means your name goes on a list of people who are considered at risk of abusing and neglecting children, which could turn up in any future background check you undergo.