‘We’ve got to look at a better way.’ State senator asking questions about N.C. foster care oversight after WBTV investigation
N.C. DHHS won’t answer questions after eight-year-old sexually abused in foster home
SHELBY, N.C. (WBTV) – A top North Carolina state senator is asking questions after a WBTV investigation uncovered an eight-year-old boy who was sexually abused inside a group home for foster children.
WBTV first reported in late January about the case.
The boy was living at Christine’s Home, a group home for foster children in Shelby, when he disclosed to his mother and a social worker that he had been sexually abused by a 12-year-old boy also living in the home.
The Cleveland County Sheriff confirmed a juvenile was charged as a result of the boy’s report. State law makes other information about cases involving juveniles secret.
As WBTV has investigated this case, the question of who is responsible for overseeing group foster homes to make sure the children who live in them are safe has only gotten murkier.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Social Services is responsible for licensing group foster homes.
WBTV requested all inspections records of Christine’s Home in mid-January. DHHS responded by providing three inspections, showing a state regulator visited the home once every two years for a re-licensing inspection.
On Tuesday, more than a month after WBTV first submitted its request for inspection records, a DHHS spokeswoman provided the entire file related to the licensure of Christine’s Home.
The new production largely confirms that state regulators only visit the home to conduct a re-licensure inspection, with little exception.
And an email from a state regulator to the executive director of Christine’s Home showed the site visit was largely to review files.
There was no records in the files produced to WBTV on Tuesday that showed state regulators were notified of the reported sexual assault that the eight-year-old boy reported in December. The files didn’t show any other reported abuse, either.
Robin Deacle, the DHHS spokeswoman, said state regulators were not responsible for tracking abuse that happens inside group foster homes licensed by the state.
“North Carolina has a state supervised, county administered child welfare system. Per North Carolina law (Chapter 7B of the General Statutes), it is the role of local Departments of Social Services to receive and investigate reports of child abuse,” Deacle said. “This includes reports of abuse involving a residential child care facility or residential educational facility.”
But in an email sent in late January, Katie Swanson, the director of the Cleveland County Department of Social Services, told WBTV the state was responsible for monitoring group foster homes.
“The NCDHHS; Division of Social Services licenses and regulates residential group homes for children,” Swanson said.
That finger pointing has a top state senator asking questions.
“I think this is one of those situations where a lot of people are supposed to be doing things and, so, it’s kind of like everybody is responsible but nobody is responsible,” Senator Jim Burgin (R-Harnett) said.
Burgin oversees the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in his role on several legislative committees, including as co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services.
“We owe it to any child to make sure that they’re in a safe, clean environment, where they are getting the necessary treatment they need,” Burgin said.
“I mean, an eight-year-old shouldn’t be in a situation where they’re going to be abused.”
Burgin said he called DHHS Secretary Cody Kinsley after our first report about what happened at Christine’s Home and is now working with Kinsley to study changes to the foster care system in ways that could better protect children.
Deacle has repeatedly declined to make Kinsley or any other DHHS official available to answer questions on what the agency does to ensure children living in group foster homes are safe.
WBTV has made repeated efforts to reach the executive director of Christine’s Home as well as an attorney listed as the facility’s registered agent. So far, those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Burgin said he is only starting his push for answers and a solution.
“This situation has brought up some things that I want to dig into more and see if there’s not a better way to do it so that we can be transparent,” he said.
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