NC DSS Director responds to problems uncovered at county level - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

NC DSS Director responds to problems uncovered at county level

Posted: Updated:

Wayne Black is the Director of the NC Department of Social Services, which oversees 100 counties statewide. Black has also been a social worker and DSS director at the county level.

He's worked on cases of abused children, and even responded in the middle of the night to put them in protective custody when necessary.

"Sometimes you stay awake at night thinking about it," said Black. He said it's a difficult, stressful job to be a social worker. He also said problems uncovered in our WBTV research are unacceptable.

WBTV found problems in DSS cases where children died and in state reviews. The issues usually involved sloppy paperwork and an inability to appropriately assess risk to children.

"We seem to have gotten into a pattern here where we have issues in a county, we have a crisis, then we go in with a team to evaluate what's going on and then we make recommendations," said Black. His goal is to address issues at the county level before a tragedy happens.

He points to state involvement with Gaston County DSS and Union County DSS following the arrest of former Union County DSS supervisor Wanda Larson. She and her partner, Dorian Harper, are charged with child abuse for leaving a boy chained outside their home. Some of the children in her care also came from Gaston County.

The state immediately sent a team to evaluate both counties. The recently released reports show continued problems in documentation, risk assessment, and following procedures. Both counties are under intense state supervision to overhaul their practices.

As part of WBTV's investigation beyond the Larson case, we asked The Department of Health and Human Services for child fatality reports on DSS-involved children. We also asked the state for the past two DHHS reviews of 14 county DSS agencies in our area.

In five years, 44 DSS-involved children died in our area. Sixteen of the children lived in Mecklenburg County.

There was two-year-old Addison Grace Lanham from Gaston County; one-year-old Marcus Davis Junior from Charlotte; ten-year-old Zahra Baker from Caldwell County; two year old Jeremiah Swafford from Cleveland County. There are many other children who never made the headlines.

The Department of Social Services was involved in all their short lives. Sometimes, more than once.

In the case of Addison Lanham, Gaston County DSS investigations found no evidence of abuse despite several reported complaints.

WBTV also learned six counties fell short of all seven goals in their last DHHS reviews. Burke, Catawba, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Rowan and Union Counties all showed problems in each category when DHHS reviewed small samples of their case files.

He said the state needs to do a better job monitoring the counties. "I'd like to see us be in half the counties next year, on the front-end, doing evaluations and assessments," he said.

Black also said accountability goes back to each county DSS director. In Union and Gaston Counties, he says improvements are already happening with quality assurance, documentation, and case management. 

Part of their challenge to success also depends on issues which plague many government agencies: not enough dollars.

Black says funding and positions have been cut, people also leave their jobs because of the stress, and it's hard to retain good workers.

"We've got to look at funding. We've got to look at resources. This is important," he said.

Copyright 2014 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow