The abrupt firing of Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services head Mary Wilson last month raised eyebrows. But revelations unearthed last week in a memo she sent to county officials months ago should raise serious public concern.
The memo exposes the failure of the countys Youth and Family Services division to adequately safeguard the welfare of some of this areas children. A February 2011 state review had found 23 areas of deficiency in child welfare. Several Mecklenburg County commissioners said on Friday they knew nothing about that and it has some of them concerned. Karen Bentley called the memo outlining state findings troubling.
It is troubling, and it raises important questions for which commissioners and county officials need to provide the public frank answers. Chief among them is whether the child welfare division has fixed its problems and is now providing this communitys abused and neglected children the protections and services they are entitled to. If not, how do they plan to provide adequate protections?
In the February memo, which the Observer obtained recently through a public records request, Wilson expressed dismay about failures in the countys child welfare division, warning that the continued decline has exposed the state to a possible significant penalty of several million dollars by the federal government.
She seems to have been right. Sherry Bradsher, director of the N.C. Division of Social Services said last week that the state had paid a penalty to the feds this year for failing to meet performance benchmarks. The amount was roughly $1 million but had been negotiated down from a higher amount. Bradsher couldnt say how much Mecklenburgs failings had contributed to that penalty. The review included other N.C. counties.
In the memo, Wilson outlined her past efforts to improve the child welfare division one of several divisions that reported to her as DSS chief and the performance of division director Paul Risk, who she noted was having a very hard time holding people accountable for improved performance.
Wilson said last month after she was fired and gave notice shed appeal the dismissal that her greatest challenge at DSS has been bringing forward the bad news of neglect, practices putting children at risk, wasteful spending, lack of controls to ensure that taxpayer money is protected and the backlash associated with continuing to uncover failure to adhere to policy.
Risk, who still heads the child welfare division, began reporting to a supervisor other than Wilson the month after Wilsons memo. That move does beg the question of whether Wilsons dismissal is indeed linked to her exposure of problems at DSS as she claims.
Wilson, though, has been on a performance improvement plan since 2011. Supervisors were reportedly dissatisfied with her work dating back to 2009, a year after she was hired. Some could say the memo was an effort to cover for her own shortcomings.
Yet, theres no glossing over the state review that documents child protection problems. Failing to follow-up with medical providers to ensure a burned child is being properly cared for, failing to make appropriate visits where domestic violence has occurred, failing to adequately assess safety risks when returning a child to a parent who had lost custody these are lapses that jeopardize a childs welfare.
Such failures should not be tolerated. County officials must give this community assurance that they are not.