The results of a state investigation into the Wilkes County Department of Social Services have been reported, and they show alarming deficiencies in how cases involving the care of children are handled.
The time for change has come.
It is up to the Wilkes County DSS Board and the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners to make sure those changes are made, changes that will ensure the safety and proper care of the county’s children.
The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that has yet to happen in the case of two girls who were moved to a foster home where a convicted child abuser lived after being sexually abused in their own home, only to be allegedly sexually abused in the foster home — a story that The Elkin Tribune broke in early February after charges were issued against the adults in the foster home.
The state’s report issued April 17 alluded to the case The Tribune reported and further investigated with a call to local state Rep. Sarah Stevens, who serves as the General Assembly’s co-chair of the Committee on Onmibus Foster Care and Dependency, as being the reason for the state investigation.
Despite this fact and a statement in the report that “on February 19, 2014, the NCDSS became aware of a case in which foster children were victimized while in a placement made through the WCDSS. On February 21 and 24, 2014, staff from the NCDSS conducted a preliminary assessment at the WCDSS to determine the program areas that required further in depth review,” Wilkes DSS Director Bill Sebastian continues to deny any mishandling of the case by his department.
In a statement issued by Sebastian and Wilkes DSS officials, they said, “Nor does anything in the report indicate that any problems were found with the way that the department handled the case involving the children who have been the subject of so much recent media coverage.”
But state officials “do not concur” with that statement, said Kevin Kelly, section chief of child welfare for the state DSS.
The Wilkes DSS Board is scheduled to meet today at 5:30 p.m. Board members must devise a plan of how to address the numerous deficiencies found by state inspectors.
Some of those include a lack of sufficient social workers for the county’s caseload; “the lack of leadership, supervision and timely assessments” in handling child protection cases; the county being out of compliance with state regulations requiring one supervisor to every five social workers; the county is not using an automated system available for tracking cases leading to “incomplete and inaccurate tracking data that is unreliable for decision making,” just to name a few.
Other findings were reported.
With so many issues found to be inadequate for serving the county and its children properly, some major changes are needed.
Hiring on a new social worker and a new supervisor are a first step, which Sebastian said is taking place, but it is going to take much larger steps to address the full problem at hand.
One of the biggest issues we see is a lack of background checks being done on potential foster home families. According to the report, only 35.3 percent of the reviewed assessments had criminal checks done on the adults in the home where children were being placed.
And we agree with Kelly who stated that the goal is to have this done in 100 percent of the cases.
If nothing else is done properly, background checks should be done every time a child is being placed. How else can one ensure the safety of the children involved?
We hope the Wilkes DSS Board comes up with a plan that will actively change the way cases in the county are handled, and that the county commissioners provide them with whatever financial and moral support needed to implement the changes necessary.
It is our future, our children’s future, that is at stake. Change is the way to make a good impression on these children, many of whom are already going through bad situations which have upset everything they know by throwing them in an unfamiliar place.
Wilkes DSS, its board and others involved should take heed to the state’s review of the department and use this as an opportunity to make things better from the top down.