Report: Union County DSS mishandled cases

2011 state audit examines Union County DSS
Published: Dec. 23, 2013 at 4:38 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2014 at 3:15 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A report reviewed by WBTV shows problems at Union County DSS go deeper than the current child abuse charges against a fired supervisor.

Investigators said Wanda Sue Larson, and her partner Dorian Harper, chained an 11-year-old boy outside with a dead chicken around his neck. Now we've learned an audit from almost three years ago showed Union County DSS mishandled seven out of ten randomly chosen cases.

In November 2013, Union County officials asked the state to review all the cases Wanda Sue Larson handled in her ten year career as a child protective supervisor.

But Union County Commissioners said they were not aware that a 2011 report done by the North Carolina Department of Health and Social Services showed that out of 10 cases reviewed by the state only 3 conformed to the state's standards as being handled properly. One family waited six days for a DSS worker to investigate a serious child abuse complaint.

A reporter with the Associated Press, Mitch Weiss requested the 2011 report from the state.  He said in February 2011 Union County had 45 days to put together a plan to explain how DSS would address the problems highlighted in the report.

"Union County put together a plan but they didn't implement the entire plan," said Weiss, "So three years later you still had some of these outstanding issues."

Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said the county is managing the problem.

"How do we fix that? Its going to be the responsibility of the county commissioners from this point forward to make sure we look and see what reports were available to us that we never got and couldn't have gotten under the previous structure," said Thomas, "And that we hold staff accountable to make sure we are moving forward. That's the only way to fix this mess."

Advocates, like Jeff Gerber with the Justice for all Coalition said the 2011 report shows problems with the DSS system go beyond Wanda Sue Larson.

"It was mind boggling," said Gerber, "The agencies involved did these audits, revealed where the flaws were in the system.  None of the findings were ever corrected."

The report showed safety plans were created for kids but weren't monitored.  Another case questioned the safety of four children after only one of them was taken out of an abusive home. And the child removed wasn't checked on for 10 months.

Gerber wants federal agents to investigate what his coalition said is a broken statewide system.

Jeremy Bess of Union County said he has been battling the DSS system for two years and has become a part of the Justice for All Coalition.

"This story involves Raleigh just as much as it does Union County.  And that's our point Raleigh can't investigate this," said Bess.

The Justice for all Coalition wants federal authorities to investigate the DSS system. And Bess said Union County commissioners don't have to wait to act.

"It's time for another state review in February and nothings been done since February 2011.  I think that's more reason to make personnel changes," said Bess.

Commissioner Thomas said he does not know how many case workers from 2011 are still working in DSS.

"If they got away with it because of lack of leadership they probably won't be with us very long," said Thomas.

The current executive director of Union County Human Services told the AP that the county is still trying to address the problems found by the state in 2011.

Copyright 2013 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.