DSS Makes Changes After Supervisor Investigation

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by Audrina Bigos
Bio | Email | Follow: @AudrinaBigos

MONROE, NC - Many Union County residents are not impressed by new plans approved Monday night to fix the county's Department of Social Services. 

It took eight months to approve the new changes that critics say are basic procedures that should have already been in place. 

An overhaul effort began when the state grew suspicious and stepped in after Larson was charged with multiple counts of felony child abuse. On November 15th, 2013 an 11-year-old boy was found starving, shivering and chained to her porch, with a dead chicken around his neck.
 
The investigation opened a flood of complaints. Now, some people are wondering why it took a near-tragedy to get the county to step up and approve the new changes.
 
"I would love to see them act on what they say and not on promises, because them promises don't always work," said Georgia Hamilton.
 
The Union County DSS says some of the biggest changes include a requirement that child services supervisors meet at least bi-weekly with each social worker. The county has now doubled its child intake staff from two to four experts and added a supervisor. It has also created a quality assurance position to review investigations and child files. The department is also implementing a new electronic monitoring system to take place of social worker's handwritten notes.
 
"With that system, other people could come in, even a supervisor or whoever it may be, and make changes. We didn't know who did it, or when, or what," said Richard Matens, executive director of Union County Health Services. 
 
Since November, there's been a 10 percent turnover in Union County DSS. Nearly two dozen employees have been fired, dismissed or retired. 
 
Some child advocates say the department's plans leave behind children and families who have fallen victim to the broken system.
 
"If Wanda Sue Larson wasn't accidentally arrested last year, we wouldn't be standing here today. These folks knew of these problems before and did nothing," said Jeremy Bess with Justice For All Coalition. 
 
Bess says the new changes only mask major problems in the broken system. He says there are victims who's cases have been improperly handled, while the large department turnover continues.
 
"We have certain cases where everybody from DSS who was involved in the case is now fired or in prison. Why can we not re-open those cases?" said Bess.
 
Larson remains in jail on multiple child abuse charges.
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