When the North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services decided to do a deep dive into Guilford County’s Child Protective Services after the tragic death in December of three children in a house fire, it was to be expected that some infractions of policy would be discovered.

However, the extent of the wholesale disregard for rules, policies and law must have been a total shock to investigators who looked into 29 cases in which the county was supposed to be protecting children.

The state’s review found, for one, that the safety assessments conducted were not adequate to ensure the children’s safety in 52 percent of the cases, and also found that “supervisory oversight” was conducted according to policy just 55 percent of the time.

Investigators also found that ongoing contacts with the children were made according to policy in only 62 percent of the cases, and “Ongoing contacts with the parents were made according to policy in 69 percent of the cases.”

Guilford County officials were made aware of the violations on Thursday, March 16, 2023. However, it was a month later– when area television reporters got hold of the letter and began asking questions – that the violations came to light.

Before the news story spread, the county put out a pre-emptive statement that did not mention the extent and nature of the violations. It was confusing because the press release provided the understatement of the year – but no information about what state investigators found.

The press release said, “On May 16, 2023, Guilford County officials received notification from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services listing findings from a recent review of open child protection assessment and permanency planning files.”

The release didn’t even say that those findings were negative findings.  The only clue was that a short-prepared statement from Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston noted that the county places the “highest level of importance” on the protection of the county’s children and added that there would be corrective action taken.

For those interested, here are some of the other problems state investigators found with Child Protective Services…

Required contacts were completed according to policy in just 70 percent of the cases.  SDM tools – which stands for Structured Decision-Making – were completed correctly in just over half of the cases investigated.

Case decisions were “appropriate and supported by documentation” only 52 percent of the time.

Also, documentation showed discussions of ongoing safety and risk in just 69 percent of the cases.