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State orders Union County DSS to reopen 1 case, review others

State officials have ordered Union County’s Department of Social Services to reopen one child abuse case and examine two or three others to see whether they should be reopened as well, a county official confirmed Saturday.

The action comes as the state Department of Health and Human Services continues its review of the agency after last November’s arrest of a county child protective services supervisor on child abuse charges.

Wanda Larson and her longtime boyfriend, Dorian Harper, were arrested after authorities found an 11-year-old boy handcuffed to their porch with a dead chicken tied around his neck. Larson, who has since been fired, was the boy’s legal guardian. The boy was a former foster child of hers who had lived with her since he was about 3.

Larson and Harper were indicted by a county grand jury in December on felony child abuse and related charges. The boy and four other children whom Larson had adopted were removed from the Monroe-area home and are now under the supervision of Davidson County DSS.

Law enforcement officials have expanded their case to see whether any or all of the 35 other children who were under foster care by Larson and Harper during a 12-year period had been abused or witnessed abuse.

Shortly after the arrests, Union County asked the state DHHS to review the county’s DSS operations and how the county handles adoptions, foster care and child abuse investigations. The state is also studying records of all children placed under the care of Larson and Harper.

As part of that review, the state examined about 50 cases chosen at random from the past three years, said Richard Matens, executive director of the county human services agency, which includes DSS.

One of the cases was farmed out to another North Carolina county because of a conflict of interest in Union. Matens said the state ordered that case to be reopened “to make sure it was closed out appropriately.”

He said the state also told the county to look at two to three other cases to see whether they were handled appropriately. Those were not conflict-of-interest cases, but the state wanted the county to look at documentation issues, Matens said, declining to elaborate.

He said he could not comment on whether any of those cases involved Larson or were ones that she had worked on.

Last week, Matens updated county commissioners on the first significant changes DSS was making in the wake of Larson’s arrest. They included adding a new quality assurance coordinator, implementing new rules for dealing with certain foster care cases and strengthening conflict-of-interest guidelines. Before a case is potentially sent to another county over a possible conflict of interest, the case will be sent to Matens or the DSS director for review.

The changes were in response to preliminary findings by the state as well as the department’s initiatives, Matens said. The state’s report is not finalized.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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