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Her son said he was sexually assaulted in a group home. Then silence.

WBTV Investigates: Records show little oversight of group foster homes from N.C. DHHS
WBTV Investigates: Records show little oversight of group foster homes from N.C. DHHS
Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 4:31 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2022 at 6:31 PM EST
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SHELBY, N.C. (WBTV) – A Cleveland County mother called WBTV after her eight-year-old son told her he had been sexually assaulted in a group home by another child. She called the TV station because, after the boy’s report, she heard nothing.

WBTV is taking steps to conceal the identity of the boy and his mother given the nature of his report.

The boy was living at a group foster home in Shelby called Christine’s Home, one of two facilities operated by Laura’s Homes of North Carolina.

Christine’s Home falls into a category of youth care facility that is regulated by North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Social Services.

A WBTV investigation has found almost no information is available to the public about how the division conducts its oversight of these group foster homes. There is no licensure information accessible online. It took weeks and multiple requests to obtain inspection reports from the division and, a N.C. DHHS spokeswoman said, the division does not disclose when child abuse—including sexual abuse—is reported inside a regulated facility.

The boy was living at a group foster home in Shelby called Christine’s Home, one of two facilities operated by Laura’s Homes of North Carolina.

In the case of the mother who called WBTV about what her son reported happening inside Christine’s Home, she knew her son reported being repeatedly assaulted by a fellow child and that he had been taken to the hospital. But that’s it.

Detectives with the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office would not return the mother’s calls. And, she said, her social worker with the Cleveland County Department of Social Services said they had to refer the investigation to another county’s DSS.

First, Cleveland County DSS called Lincoln County DSS, but they couldn’t investigate because, the mom was told, Lincoln County also placed children in Christine’s Home. So Burke County DSS was assigned the investigation.

Nobody from Burke County DSS returned the worried mother’s calls, she said.

Frustrated and desperate for answers, she called WBTV.

‘My heart dropped’

Records reviewed by WBTV show the eight-year-old boy reported being sexually assaulted on December 8, 2021.

His mother said it happened while she and her adult daughter were having a supervised visit with him.

“He disclosed that a boy was making him play games to prove he was not gay,” she recounted.

“And then we asked what kind of games? He just, you know, just dropped his head.”

The mother asked her son if he wanted to tell the social worker who was supervising the visit what happened. Her son said yes.

The social worker came back and told the worried mother that her son reported another boy sexually assaulting him. Three times—and an attempted fourth—in two weeks.

“I felt helpless. I felt that I could not be there for him like I wanted to be there for him,” she said. “My heart just dropped.”

A police report and hospital discharge paperwork provided by the mom shows the boy was taken to Levine Children’s Hospital, where he was eventually seen by an emergency room doctor who specializes in child abuse and neglect.

The diagnosis on the boy’s discharge paperwork is listed as “sexual assault of a child.”

Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman confirmed charges were filed against a juvenile as a result of the report. State law prohibits any other information about charges against minors from being made public.

But nobody told the boy’s mother about the charges until days after WBTV contacted Norman and a detective assigned to the case called the mom.

The boy is now living with his uncle—his mother’s brother—who has been approved by Cleveland County DSS to have custody of the boy.

‘I’m not going to let it be swept under the rug’

Outside of the charges that have been pressed against the child, it does not appear there will be any additional consequences for an eight-year-old being sexually assaulted.

Multiple messages to the director of and an attorney for Laura’s Homes of North Carolina, the company that owns Christine’s Home, went unanswered.

A spokeswoman for N.C. DHHS, who regulates Christine’s Home, refused a request for an interview. Katie Swanson, the director of Cleveland County DSS would also not answer questions on camera.

And Swanson would not answer any of the following questions in an email:

  • What, if anything, does Cleveland County DSS do to ensure child group homes are in compliance with applicable state laws and regulations in the two years between licensing inspections?
  • What, if anything, does Cleveland County DSS do to monitor a child’s wellbeing after being placed at a group home facility such as Christine’s Home?
  • Has Cleveland County DSS continued placing children at Christine’s Home or any other Laura’s Homes of North Carolina facilities since this abuse was reported in December 2021?
  • What, if any, action is Cleveland County DSS taking in response to this incident?

Instead, she sent this statement:

“The NCDHHS; Division of Social Services licenses and regulates residential group homes for children. More information on this process is available here. While I cannot comment on specific child placements, Cleveland County DSS will review the results of any investigation and take appropriate action.”

Swanson did not respond to a follow-up email pointing out her statement did not answer any of the questions posed by WBTV.

Unlike other divisions of N.C. DHHS that regulate facilities, the Division of Social Services does not make any licensing information available for its regulated facilities online.

An inspector listed as being assigned to regulate Christine’s Home referred requests for inspection reports for the facility to the public records office. A request for inspection reports for Christine’s Home took nearly two weeks—12 days—to fulfill.

The records show an inspector visits the facility once every two years. None of the records provided to WBTV show any follow-up inspections, even though each of the three inspection reports—from 2016, 2018 and 2020—required a plan of correction.

The report of the 2018 inspection found that a staff member abused a child. There was no recommended action noted in the report.

Despite the thin paper trail, a spokeswoman for N.C. DHHS claimed the agency regularly conducts oversight of its facilities.

“NCDSS addresses complaints; contacts providers when reports of child abuse or neglect are received to ensure that any safety issues are identified and addressed; conducts meetings and visits to assess progress on corrective action; and maintains contact with providers through phone calls, email, and visits to provide on-going support and technical assistance throughout the two-year licensure period,” the spokeswoman said.

The agency could not provide additional records when a WBTV reporter pointed out those claims were not supported by the records provided for Christine’s Home.

It is not clear that N.C. DHHS was aware of a report of a child being sexually abused in Christine’s Home.

The N.C. DHHS spokeswoman refused to say whether the agency had been notified of the report, citing confidentiality laws that do not apply to the state’s regulation of group foster homes.

In response to a follow-up question from a WBTV reporter, Robin Deacle, the N.C. DHHS Senior Director of Communications, said it was “neither accurate or appropriate” to say the agency conceals information about child abuse reported inside group foster homes regulated by the Division of Social Services.

Deacle claimed the agency did not disclose reports of abuse to the public to “protect the rights of children.”

The mother of the boy who was sexually assaulted is hoping additional attention on her son’s case will result in accountability for the adults who could have prevented her son’s abuse.

“I feel like the group home bears responsibility. I feel like the people that was on duty bears responsibility,” she said.

“And I don’t want this swept under the rug, and I’m not going to let it be swept under the rug.”

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