Commissioners eye taking over Wilkes DSS

By Anthony Gonzalez agoznalez@civitasmedia.com

May 11, 2014

WILKES COUNTY — The Wilkes County Board of Commissioners is pushing for more authority over human services departments starting with Wilkes DSS.

The action comes after a scathing report issued against Wilkes County DSS on April 17 by the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services and chatter to commissioners by the public demanding change.

In the six-page report, the state outlined several deficiencies within the Wilkes County Department of Social Services involving leadership, oversight, and record-keeping.

The investigation began after state officials learned of a case where Wilkes County social workers removed two girls from one abusive home, then placed them out-of-county and in a home where they were sexually abused again. One of the adults in the foster home had already lost parental rights to her own children. According to arrest warrant records, the two girls contracted an STD from the alleged assault in the foster home.

The report also revealed that among the cases sampled from Child Protective Services workers in Wilkes County interviewed and did background checks on all adults in the child’s home in only 35.3 percent of all cases. Ongoing visits to make sure the child was safe only happened in 11.8 percent of cases.

According to Rep. Sarah Steven (Surry, Wilkes), state law was adopted with House Bill 438 in 2012 allowing for a county to exercise one of three options in relation to consolidation or what she described as commissioner takeover.

“Wilkes County officials reached out on this topic. I believe its a great idea. They’re going to have to make a decision on which way they want to proceed,” said Stevens.

Option one abolishes the county social services boards. The Board of Commissioners becomes the governing body for its departments of social services and the oversight gives the board the authority to hire, fire, and hold accountable its county’s DSS director.

Option two establishes and appoints members to a consolidated human services (CHS) board.

Under option three, considered full consolidation, the commissioners can consolidate the health department, DSS and other human services into a county human services agency (CHSA) and abolish the county board of health and county social services board. With this option, the commissioners govern the CHSA by acting as the consolidated human services board.

The Wilkes County Board of Commissioners have been silent on how best to deal with an embattled Wilkes DSS until last Monday at its general board meeting. Commissioners ordered its county manager and county attorney to review and advise the board on options pertaining to House Bill 438.

“Everything is on the table,” said Wilkes County Manager John Yates. “Commissioners are going to decide what’s best to do moving forward and they’re moving on this item…Let’s just say that something will be done and commissioners are leaning toward one of the three options.”

At the meeting, Yates presented a proposed fiscal 2014-15 budget of $191,445 for four additional positions in Wilkes DSS, addressing issues raised in the state’s report on child protective services. With reimbursement from the state for DSS positions, the county’s actual cost will be $89,980.

“It’s for a supervisor in CPS, a social worker program manager, an income maintenance caseworker 2 for the Medicaid division, and social worker 2 in CPS,” said Yates.

On Friday, Commissioner Eddie Settle said he, along with other commissioners, have dealt with an aftermath of calls from the public all concerned and wanting some sort of action.

“The public is angry. They’re going to blame us as commissioners, even though we’re not the DSS board. We can’t play politics here though…We have to get behind the changes and do what’s best for the kids,” said Settle. “This is about the children. Its about protecting our children.”

Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or follow on Twitter @newsgonz