It is hard to imagine anything worse than young children burning to death in a fire.

It is therefore highly disturbing to read the details of a report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) after investigators found that the Guilford County employees charged with protecting those children failed to follow the rules and practices of the profession meant to keep the children healthy and safe, both physically and emotionally.

On December 12, 2022, a fire at a home on Grimsley Street in Greensboro led to the deaths of a three-year-old and a set of one-year-old twins who were all being overseen by the Guilford County Division of Social Services.

On Thursday, March 16, 2023, NCDHHS, after an extensive investigation, sent a scathing letter to Guilford County officials citing a long list of violations of rules by social services workers – rules which, if county employees had followed, might have saved the children.

On the same day that letter went out, March 16, another house fire – this one on Glenside Drive in Greensboro – killed a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old.  Those children were also being overseen and “protected” by county social services workers.

The deaths of the children in the Grimsley Street fire in December 2022 led NCDHHS to investigate the county department’s practices, and that initial investigation found a host of alarming instances of workers not following rules, policies and laws meant to keep the children safe.

That led to another more extensive investigation in which NCDHHS found that in some instances, social services child protection workers followed procedures less than 50 percent of the time.

For instance, of the cases investigated, children were seen and interviewed at initiation in only 48 percent of the cases, and many of those interviews that did take place were not done in the required timeframe.

The list of violations goes on and on.

The county is now required, by Friday, June 16, to notify the state of the corrective actions the county will take in light of the findings. But no corrective action the county takes now will bring back the lives of the five children – and perhaps of other children under the care of DSS who conceivably died in less publicly known circumstances at least in part because of social workers not doing their jobs.