New state audit finds problems with Union County foster care program

Union County DSS fails state audit
Updated: May. 16, 2017 at 7:47 PM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A review of the Union County Department of Social Services' foster care program by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has found the agency failing to follow state policies and procedures in a majority of cases.

The report, summarizing the state's findings, was issued in December 2016. The findings were based on a review of 24 foster care cases.

According to the report, staff in Union County DSS' foster care program failed to perform three out of three tasks evaluated a majority of the time.

The report found that only 45 percent of foster care cases were being reviewed by a supervisor. State policies required all cases be reviewed by a supervisor.

In an interview, Lisa Kawyn, Children's Services Program Administrator for Union County DSS, defended the agency in light of the report's findings.


"The supervision occurred, it just was in a handwritten form. And we have an electronic system and we had one area that was not putting the supervision notes in the electronic system," Kawyn explained. "So the state didn't recognize that as receiving supervision."

There is nothing in the state's final report that mentions supervisors were making handwritten entries and not entering them into a computer system.

Kawyn said the review was meant to be an improvement tool.

"It's really putting more emphasis on teaching your teams how to be better social workers," she explained.

The report also found Union County DSS failed to facilitate a meeting between foster parents and biological parents in more than 75 percent of cases reviewed.

"The purpose of shared parenting is to ensure that the child's needs of nurturance and safety are met by partnering between birth parents, foster parents and the child's social worker. It may begin as a meeting but evolves into a true partnership relationship that becomes a continued experience," the report said.

State requirements mandate such meeting happen within seven days after the child is placed. The report found such meetings being scheduled within a week in just 8.7 percent of cases reviewed.

The new state report comes to light nearly four years since Wanda Sue Larson was arrested on child abuse charges after one of her five foster children was found tied to her porch with a dead chicken around his neck.

Larson was a Union County DSS supervisor at the time of her arrest.

The mother of the boy found with the chicken around his neck has told WBTV she was unable to see her son, despite the fact that she was supposed to have visits with him during the time he was in Larson's care.

In an interview, a WBTV reporter asked Kawyn why the same issues underlying the Larson case were still problems for Union County DSS years later.

"I would say that there are – there's always going to be areas to improve upon, right? And who doesn't need help?" Kawyn said. "So, we're continuously looking at ways, not only on our own, but ways we can partner with others to improve what we're doing."

Moreover, Kawyn said the agency has taken many steps to improve its operations in the wake of the Larson case.

"We have additional oversights that we never had before, we have quality assurance, we hired another manager which again gives another view to overseeing what the supervisors are doing," she explained. "There's been a lot of advancement in our processes and our oversight in the last four years."

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