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Bullied by Social Services

Dear Carolyn,

I have a case going on with the Guilford County Department of Social Services.  The social worker advised me not to get an attorney, and that it would be worse for me if I got an attorney, and that I don’t need one anyway.  I feel this was a threat, and that I might lose my child if I get an attorney.  Can I get an attorney?  Should I get an attorney?

– Feeling Threatened


Dear Threatened, 

You need an attorney, in my opinion, most any time you are dealing with the Guilford County Department of Social Services.  The comments below do not reflect on the many great social workers who truly love working with the entire family unit and truly seek to do good things for the entire family, recognizing that the child in question is part of a family unit and an extended family unit.  They also deal with difficult situations, but dealing with difficult situations day in and day out can lead a social worker to burn out.  Burnout, as well, can lead to bullying.

There are two things wrong with a social worker advising someone not to get an attorney, in my opinion.  First, only an attorney licensed in North Carolina can make an accurate assessment of whether you need an attorney and what the legal issues really are or might be.  In fact, it very well may be legal advice to tell someone that they do not need an attorney, and it is illegal for someone to give legal advice who is not a licensed attorney in the state where the advice is being given.

Second, there is bullying going on here.  Yes, I really did say bullying.  I think we can agree that bullying is always wrong, can’t we?   What is bullying? According to Google,bullying is a verb. Bullying is using “superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”  The synonyms are “persecute, oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate, strong-arm, and dominate.”  “We can take your child” is an oppressive, dominating statement when made by Social Services and is an intimidation tactic.

Types of bullies are well studied in current literature.  One resource is Anton Hout, founder of  While there are several types of bullies that may be found in organizations such as Social Services.  In your situation, I might classify this bully as either a “gatekeeper” bully or a “constant critic” bully.

  1. Gatekeeper bullies deny people the resources they need because it makes the gatekeeper’s job more difficult. Denying a person an attorney may very well be a needed resource.  Having an attorney may make the social worker’s job harder, and certainly the social worker will need to behave in front of your witness, the attorney.
  2. “Constant critic” bullies seek to destroy the victim’s credibility and will do anything to win, including falsify records or any other devious act.

One of the problems is that organizations can develop a “culture of bullying” and not even recognize that the bullying exists within the culture.  Outsiders see the bullying, but inside the organization the bullying is viewed as the norm, albeit a very unhealthy norm.

Parents screw up, but no one should be defined by his/her biggest screw-up.  We are all “under construction”, and no one is perfect with all the answers.  The philosophy of Dr. Bob Goff’s book, Love Does would set a good tone for Social Services.  The effective social worker is the one on the scene with the family with an attitude of love and helpfulness—that of providing a service to a person “under construction.” The attitude of “if you don’t do _______, we’ll take your kids away” is bullying and is not an effective attitude of helpfulness.

So, you are being bullied. What should you do?  Report the bullying and hire an attorney to help you.


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This blog is an excerpt from Ask Carolyn: Straight Talk from the Dancing Divorce Attorney, available on kindle.  

Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions. 

Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your unique case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn.”