Report Abuse and Neglect of a Vulnerable Adult

Need to report abuse or neglect?

To report a potential case of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, immediately contact the county DSS office where the vulnerable adult resides. Intake staff will assist the person making the report and assess the information provided to determine if an investigation is necessary.

Local law enforcement offices can also file reports of potential abuse or neglect and ask DSS to investigate the case.

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Protecting Vulnerable Adults from Abuse or Neglect

DSS’ Adult Protective Services Program is part of our state’s public safety system and is responsible for protecting vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation by their caretakers.  APS investigates and provides temporary assistance until risk is minimized and services are secured.  When in the best interest of the vulnerable adult APS works to keep the adult in their home with supportive services.


What meets the APS criteria of a vulnerable adult?

A “vulnerable adult” is a person 18 years of age or older who has a physical or mental condition which prevents them from providing for his or her own care or protection. This includes adults who are impaired because of brain damage, advanced age, and physical, mental or emotional dysfunction.

Who is a Vulnerable Adult?

Situation 1:

Carol is a 35 year old female who is in general good health. However, two weeks ago she got into a car accident and broke her left leg. Although it has become a challenge for her to complete daily tasks, she is expected to make a full recovery. Is Carol a vulnerable adult?

Answer: No. Carol is temporarily challenged. She does not have a disability or physical or mental condition that permanently disables her from providing care or protection for herself.

Situation 2:

Joey is an 18 year old mildly mentally retarded man. Although he can perform a lot of daily functions, he is unable to provide care for himself independently. However, Joey complicates matters because he reports that he does not want any assistance from others. Is Joey a vulnerable adult?

Answer: Yes. Joey has a diagnosis of mental retardation. This is a permanent disability. Just because he doesn’t want assistance from others does not mean that he cannot benefit from help to meet his daily needs.

Situation 3:

Mrs. Roy is a 65 year old female who is having problems with her living condition. She is clear and oriented and still drives her car. She attends to grocery shopping and pays her own bills. She gets and administers her own medication. However, her house is in what neighbors described as “deplorable condition.” Mrs. Roy reports that she knows that her home needs some fixing up; but, she do not have the money to fix it up at the current time and she has a pathway through her home in case she need to exit quickly. Is Mrs. Roy a vulnerable adult?
Answer: No. The state of South Carolina in the court of Appeals ruled that “Poverty or the lack of adequate resources may have a deleterious effect on an individual’s ability to adequately provide for her care and protection; however, poverty alone is not sufficient to satisfy the definition of a vulnerable adult under the Act. Rather, there must be evidence of other factors that cause the deleterious effect.""

What Meets the Criteria to Accept a Report or Referral for Investigation?

For a report or referral to meet the criteria to be accepted for investigation, there must be an allegation that meets the legal definition of a vulnerable adult. There also, must be reason to believe abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or exploitation of the vulnerable adult has occurred or is likely to occur in a community setting. If you know of someone that meets this criteria please call your County DSS Office to make a report.

What is Abuse and Neglect?

The following definitions will help you understand terminology associated with the maltreatment of a vulnerable adult.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse means intentionally inflicting or allowing to be inflicted physical injury on a vulnerable adult by an act or failure to act. Physical abuse includes, but it not limited to, slapping, hitting, kicking, biting, choking, pinching, burning, actual or attempted sexual battery as defined in S.C. Code Section 16-3-651, use of medication outside the standards of reasonable medical practice for the purpose of controlling behavior, and unreasonable confinement. Physical abuse also includes the use of a restrictive or physically intrusive procedure to control behavior for the purpose of punishment except that a therapeutic procedure prescribed by a licensed physician or other qualified professional or that is part of a written plan of care by a licensed physician or other qualified professional is not considered physical abuse. Physical abuse does not include altercations or acts of assault between vulnerable adults.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse means deliberately subjecting a vulnerable adult to threats or harassment or other forms of intimidating behavior causing fear, humiliation, degradation, agitation, confusion, or other forms of serious emotional distress.

Sexual Battery

Sexual Battery is defined as sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, or any intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person's body or of any object into the genital or anal openings of another person's body, except when such intrusion is accomplished for medically recognized treatment or diagnostic purposes.

Neglect by Caregiver

The failure or omission of a caregiver to provide the care, goods, or services necessary to maintain the health or safety of a vulnerable adult including, but not limited to, food, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision, and medical services. This may be repeated conduct or a single incident which has produced or can be proven to result in serious physical or psychological harm or substantial risk of death.


Neglect includes the inability of the vulnerable adult, in the absence of a caretaker, to provide for his or her own health or safety which produces or could reasonably be expected to produce serious physical or psychological harm, or substantial risk of death.


The use of the vulnerable adult’s assets without authorization, the manipulation of the adult to make purchases, or the coercion of the adult to perform an activity against his or her wishes or capacity to consent.