WILKESBORO — State inspectors with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services found a number of deficiencies in the operation of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services during a recent on-site inspection.
Wilkes County Department of Social Services Director Bill Sebastian Tuesday responded to the state evaluation by providing a formal statement by the department. But state officials do not agree with all of the response.
“At present, DSS has approximately 400 Child Protective Services and Foster Care cases that are open and requiring continuing child welfare services of some description,” said the statement. “The state review singled out 20 of those cases to review. The cases were selected because an examination of the records showed that these cases had been open longer than the state and federal policies mandate. In other words, when the cases were picked, DSS knew that they were out of compliance with these policies. The question the state, and DSS, wanted answered was: ‘Why were the cases out of compliance?’ The review answered that question. Again, as expected, there are several reasons.”
The county department reported, “First, the review found that Wilkes DSS has an unusually high vacancy rate in the number of child welfare workers. Wilkes had a vacancy rate of 39.29 percent. The state average is 22.49 percent.
“Secondly, the case load each worker was expected to handle increased. Although the county and board of commissioners have been responsive to agency staffing needs by funding an additional Child Protective Services investigator position for each of the past two years, the increase in caseloads has continued.”
In addition, the statement gave acknowledgement that Wilkes DSS had “an insufficient number of supervisors to oversee the social workers.”
In the statement, DSS officials said, “The combination of these deficiencies was that fewer workers were expected to deal with more cases, and there was less supervision to ensure that the workers were doing their jobs in a timely fashion. The result was that the 20 cases included in the study were not being resolved as quickly as the state requires.
“Despite these problems, however, it is important to note that the findings of the review are not an indication of the overall efficiency and compliance of the child welfare units. Nothing in the report indicates problems with the operation of the entire child welfare program, including foster care and child protective services. 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 Kevin Kelly, section chief of child welfare for the state DHHS, said in a phone interview Tuesday, that the state “does not concur” with Wilkes DSS’s statement that no “problems were found with the way that the department handled the case involving the children” first brought to light in an article by The Elkin Tribune on Feb. 19 that triggered the state inspection.
According to the Wilkes statement, “The administration of DSS has already implemented many of the recommendations contained within the state report. Specifically, all children and families who are the subject of any open CPS reports have been visited, and the safety of the children reassessed. All out of home placements for the children have been reassessed. A system of collecting relevant data on all CPS reports has been implemented. And a system of supervisory oversight has been revamped and put in place.”
Officials also reported that they have begun the process to fill a vacant investigator and Child Welfare supervisor position, but are awaiting final approval from the county commissioners to hire additional supervisory staff.
“In short, Wilkes DSS is moving quickly to address and improve all areas of deficiency found by the state review,” said officials in the statement. “DSS will be working closely with the state to implement the recommendations of the report and to improve the delivery of needed services to the children and families of Wilkes County. The goal of DSS is, and has always been, to ensure that the children of this county who require the intervention and help of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services get that help in a timely and safe manner. Nothing in the state’s report changes or challenges that.”
Anthony Gonzalez may be reached 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @newsgonz.