The Guilford County Division of Social Services has come under scrutiny from the state and the media due to its failure to follow rules and procedures in two cases in which a total of five children died in house fires while the division was overseeing those households.

Much of that scrutiny has been focused on the social services division’s Child Protective Services section. However, state investigators also used the occasion to look into the section of DSS that’s charged with overseeing action plans to keep children with their families or place them in other families permanently.

State officials apparently for a long time had concerns about Guilford County’s Permanency Planning efforts, and, when investigators looked into Child Protective Services cases after the deaths of three children in December 2022, they also decided to investigate Permanency Planning.

A Thursday, May 16 letter from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) stated that the review of Permanency Planning was “due to several complaints received through the Constituent Concerns office of NCDSS [North Carolina Division of Social Services].”

It added, “These complaints regarding Permanency cases included concerns of cases not achieving timely permanence and that foster parents were not supported in their efforts to provide for the children in their home. Additionally, leadership at [the Guilford County Division of Social Services] reached out to NCDSS for assistance in addressing ongoing tension with Guilford County court partners. The records were reviewed utilizing the appropriate program monitoring tool that specifically determines if law, rule, and policy are followed.”

Law, rule and policy were not followed, according to state investigators.

For some requirements, policy was not followed in any of those cases and, in 30 percent of the cases studied, there was no ongoing contact with the children that met the requirements.

The review of Permanency Planning cases listed the following violations:

“• Ongoing contacts with children occurred in 70 percent of the cases.

  • Children were interviewed separately in 50 percent of the cases.
  • Ongoing contacts with the parents did not occur according to policy in any of the cases.
  • Documentation reflected discussion of risk and safety factors as well as observations and actions in 50 percent of the cases.
  • SDM [Structured Decision-Making] tools were not completed correctly in any of the cases.
  • Family Service Agreements were completed timely with the parents in 20 percent of the cases.
  • Family Service Agreements were reflective of SDM tools in 18 percent of the cases.”

Over the past decade, mothers and other family members have at times come to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and argued tearfully that the county’s employees were not following procedures when it came to removing their children.  Those cases were difficult for the media to investigate because, in such cases, much of the information the county has can legally be withheld from the press.

However, that same information cannot be withheld from the NCDSS investigators.