A housefire in December of 2022 that killed three small children being overseen by the Guilford County Division of Social Services led to a state investigation of Guilford County Child Protective Services and other Child Welfare Services.

The investigation revealed massive problems in the way the county conducted those operations.

A State of North Carolina performance assessment system for Child Welfare Services across the state might have detected some of those problems. However, the system is not yet active.  While social services performance in other areas is tracked closely, the lack of a similar system for Child Welfare creates a big blind spot when it comes to measuring the Child Welfare Services performance in Social Services departments across the state.

On Thursday, February 23 of this year, before the Guilford County commissioners were aware of any major issues with the county’s Child Welfare Services, Guilford County Social Services Director Sharon Barlow gave a performance report to the Board of Commissioners on social services results for the month of December 2022 for about a dozen metrics across various categories.

Guilford County has a written agreement with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services regarding all social services programs – excluding Medicaid assistance. This agreement requires Guilford County Social Services to meet certain performance and growth measures.

The report Barlow gave represented data for the month of December 2022, the month the children perished in the fire.  A written version was in the commissioners agenda packet, and Barlow gave a report on the performance data.

The report included Work First applications, Food and Nutrition Services, various recertifications and other services provided by DSS. Those reports were positive with the county meeting its performance goals in all categories.

Barlow did not mention Child Welfare in her oral report to the board nor did the commissioners ask about it – even though the language in the written report was very interesting.  When the report came to the category of  “Child Welfare,” there were no performance results listed.  Instead, it said, “Child Welfare – To date, data from the state remains unvalidated and therefore an accurate report cannot be presented.”

The Rhino Times asked the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) about the lack of valid data when it came to Guilford County Child Welfare Services.

NCDHHS Office of Communications Press Assistant Hannah Jones responded in an email explaining the situation.

“Currently, the standard set of child welfare performance metrics that the NC DHHS uses to hold County DSS agencies accountable (through the Rylan’s Law Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)) is limited,” she wrote.

Rylan’s Law Memorandum of Understanding is a written agreement between NCDHHS and every North Carolina county.  It outlines the state’s performance expectations for county social services programs. NCDHHS collaborated with the NC Association of County Commissioners and with the state’s social services directors to develop the agreement that went into effect about four years ago.

Jones wrote that the state’s system that tracks child welfare data is not yet operational.

“Due to the fact NC has not yet implemented a Statewide Child Welfare Information System (CWIS) for all 100 counties, there are some performance measures that are either incomplete, cannot be calculated, or are labor intensive to calculate and validate because the data is not yet uniformly collected and reported through a statewide information system.”

She added, “NC DHHS currently has a large procurement effort underway for a new Systems Integrator that will bring new technology into the fold for child welfare, and part of that will include improved analytics and performance measures. NC DHHS expects a contract award for that vendor in the upcoming 2-3 months.”