State orders changes at Guilford County social services after 3 children die in fire (2024)

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The state has cracked down on the Guilford County Division of Social Services after a fire that killed three young children in Greensboro exposed a slew of problems in how the division was operating.

In a letter dated May 16, NCDHHS Senior Director of Human Services Lisa Cauley ordered GCDSS to put together a “corrective action plan” to address the violations within 30 days, setting the deadline at Friday. The letter is addressed to Guilford County Department of Social Services Director Sharon Barlow, Guilford County Assistant County Manager Victor Isler and Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chair Skip Alston.

Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 12, 2022, the Greensboro Fire Department responded to a blaze at a home on Grimsley Street, off of West Gate City Boulevard, near the Greensboro Coliseum. When they arrived, fire was showing from all windows and doors of the home. It took the responders around 5 minutes to get the fire down enough to get inside. Neighbors helped first responders pinpoint the children—a three-year-old and twins who were both one year old—to a bedroom in the home, and crews were able to pull them out through the bedroom window. The children died at the scene.

North Carolina’s Division of Social Services learned of the death later that day and discovered that the Guilford County Department of Social Services had an open CPS assessment on the child’s family.

Regional Child Welfare Consultant Mirna Gereige reviewed the case on Jan. 3, 2023, using a program monitoring tool that identifies if law, rule and policy are followed, and uncovered multiple policy violations.

According to Cauley, GCDSS’s original Child Protective Services Report was “screened improperly.” GCDHHS did not see and interview all children “at initiation,” thoroughly assess safety “at initiation,” maintain ongoing contact with the family or follow up on safety concerns reported by the mother. The county also did not complete “Structured Decision Making (SDM) tools” correctly.

After discovering those issues, North Carolina DSS reviewed 29 CPS assessment cases and 10 permanency planning cases, which involve children who must be separated from their parents or caretakers, from April 13 to April 26.

The CPS assessment review found that GCDSS:

  • saw and interviewed all children “at initiation” in 48% of cases. 10 of those cases were initiated by the after-hours unit. 7 of those 10 were not initiated in a timely manner
  • completed a safety assessment adequate to ensure safety in 48% of cases
  • conducted supervisory oversight according to policy in 55% of cases.
  • made ongoing contact with children according to policy in 62% of cases
  • made ongoing contact with parents according to policy in 69% of cases
  • completed “collateral contacts” according to policy in 70% of cases
  • completed SDM tools completely in 55% of cases
  • made appropriate case decisions supported by documentation in 52% of cases
  • documented talks of ongoing safety and risk in 69% of cases

The permanency planning case review revealed that GCDSS:

  • maintained ongoing contact with children in 70% of cases
  • interviewed children separately in 50% of cases
  • maintained ongoing contact with parents according to policy in none of the cases
  • documented discussion of risk and safety factors and observations and actions in 50% of cases
  • completed SDM tools correctly in none of the cases
  • completed family service agreements with parents in 20% of cases
  • reflected SDM tools in family service agreements in 18% of cases
  • assured family time happened “frequently and in a variety of places” in 22% of cases and conducted supervisory oversight according to policy in 30% of cases

NCDHHS ordered GCDSS to a “corrective action plan” to address the violations within 30 days of May 16, when the letter is dated. The department will have help from a regional child welfare consultant. GCDSS’s answer must include:

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  • A plan to provide all staff with ongoing supervisory oversight at least every other week
    and high-risk cases weekly.
  • A plan to ensure all staff remain current in narrative within 7 days of event as per policy
    and that narrative accurately reflects the activities of the case.
  • All Social Workers and Supervisors/Program Managers participate in the mandatory
    Back-to-Basics training that is focused on Safety and Risk and appropriate use of SDM
  • All Social Workers and Supervisors/Program managers will complete the mandatory
    Practice Standards trainings. Social Work Supervisors/Program Managers will utilize the
    associated self-assessment tools.
  • CPS Supervisors/Managers will participate in Technical Assistance on Conducting
    thorough Assessments.
  • Permanency Planning Supervisors/Managers will participate in Technical Assistance on
    ensuring timely permanence.
  • Social Work Supervisors/Managers will participate in coaching to develop strategies for
    providing ongoing, effective supervisory oversight.
  • Ensure all staff participate in training identified to address areas of needed improvement

GCDSS has already started making changes. NCDSS says that Guilford County’s after-hours staff will review all CWS history to make sure all children in the home have been identified and will turn around documentation for all cases within 24 hours. The assigned daytime CPS worker and supervisor will staff cases started by after-hours staff within 24 hours to make sure that the next steps are identified. The supervisory oversight form will include a section for the date of the most recent face-to-face contact with all children to make sure staff are making timely contacts. GCDSS has also hired a recent retiree to work part-time coaching supervisors.

NCDSS plans to conduct visits with Guilford County to review progress on the plan and possibly review child welfare case records.

If GCDSS does not comply with the order, NCDSS may withhold funding from the Guilford County division, in which case DHHS or contracted agencies would make sure that necessary services are provided.

State orders changes at Guilford County social services after 3 children die in fire (2024)
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