Report Abuse and Neglect of a Vulnerable Adult

Need to report abuse or neglect?

To report a non-criminal allegation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult, contact the SCDSS 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 1-888-CARE4US or 1-888-227-3487. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Intake staff will assist the person making the report and assess the information provided to determine if an investigation is appropriate under the law. If circumstances may warrant investigation but DSS is not the proper investigative entity, DSS will refer the report to the proper investigative entity. 

Contact 911 immediately if the situation is a life-threatening emergency. Report nonemergency situations that  involve possible criminal activity to the local law enforcement agency.  An emergency is a situation where a vulnerable adult appears to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or harm.  Criminal abuse, neglect, or exploitation should be reported to law enforcement immediately.  Someone may make a report to both law enforcement and DSS if there is uncertainty about whether the allegations are criminal or non-criminal in nature.

Click Here To Report Abuse/Neglect Online


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. However, if Carol’s injuries substantially impair her ability to adequately provide for her care, as by not being able to bathe or take care of her injury, she may be a vulnerable adult.


Situation 2:

Joey is a 25 year old man with an intellectual disability.  He has completed school and is attending a day program to learn work skills. Joey wants to be independent and resists getting help. He is trying to live on his own, but his roommate is taking his money. He does not have the skills to manage his money, clean his apartment consistently, or eat properly. Is he a vulnerable adult?

Answer: At the moment Joey is a vulnerable adult because he is being exploited by his roommate. If Joey gets assistance in transitioning to the work force, learning life skills such as healthy eating, and living in an appropriate community setting, then he would not a vulnerable adult because he is not in danger.  People with disabilities who seek independence have an opportunity to make themselves less vulnerable by making themselves less dependent upon other people.  However, if loses his apartment and becomes homeless, he may be a vulnerable adult because he does not have the means to provide care for himself


Situation 3:

Roy is a 65 year old man who is having problems with his living conditions. He is clear and oriented and still drives his car. He does his own grocery shopping and pays his own bills. He gets and administers his own medication. However, his house is in what neighbors described as “deplorable condition”. Roy reports that he knows that his home needs some fixing up, but he does not have the money to fix it up at the current time and he has a pathway through the home in case he needs to exit quickly. Is Roy a vulnerable adult?

Answer: Not based only on these facts. The South Carolina Court of Appeals has 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."

If Roy broke his leg and could not maneuver through house, or if he could not maintain transportation to get to food or medical care, he might be a vulnerable adult then.


Situation 4:

Maria, age 57, resides in a community residential care facility. She receives disability benefits for several medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and depression. Recently one of the staff at the CRCF verbally abused Maria and locked her in her room. Is Maria a vulnerable adult?

Yes, because she is a resident of a facility; however, the Long Term Care Ombudsman, and possibly DHEC, not DSS, would investigate her situation.

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. 

Every report or referral is assessed to determine if it meets all four of these elements:

  1. The adult must meet the legal definition of vulnerable.
  2. There must be an allegation of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
  3. The abuse or neglect must have occurred in a community setting in South Carolina.
  4. The abuse or neglect was at the hands of a caregiver or the vulnerable adult themselves.

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.

Do you have a complaint regarding services being provided to a child by a state agency? Please submit your complaint by phone (1-800-206-1957) or an electronic submission form here with the South Carolina Department of Children's Advocacy.