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Union completes plan for improving DSS after abuse scandal

Union County has finalized its plan for the state on improving its Division of Social Services after a child abuse scandal involving a former child protective services supervisor, officials confirmed Tuesday.

An 11-year-old boy under the care of Wanda Larson was found handcuffed to her Monroe-area home last November with a dead chicken tied around his neck.

Authorities later learned that Larson and her longtime boyfriend, Dorian Harper, had provided foster care for 36 children over a 12-year period from Union and Gaston counties. The couple face felony child abuse charges involving the 11-year-old.

In March, the state detailed problems in the DSS operations in Union and Gaston and told the counties to come up with a plan to deal with the issues.

Union’s issues included problems with documenting how child abuse cases are initially handled and a lack of reasonable effort to get all information needed in certain cases.

Working in partnership with the state, Union’s DSS made a number of changes since November, including creating a quality assurance coordinator, increasing the number of social workers in the child protective services’ intake unit and strengthening conflict-of-interest rules.

The county detailed its plan in an eight-page document for the state DSS, which officially accepted it last week.

“There were no surprises (for the state) because they were involved all along the way,” said Richard Matens, executive director of the county’s Department of Human Services, which includes DSS. “We have really turned the corner … and are now demonstrating a much higher level of competency in child welfare services.”

Over the next six months, the state will monitor the department to ensure it is making progress on its plan.

Matens and Union DSS Director Rae Alepa said they hope Union County can be a model for the rest of the state.

Officials with the Gaston County Health and Human Services said their response plan also has been completed and was also formally accepted by the state last week. The state report had listed concerns that included county social workers not balancing the role of supporting foster parents while monitoring for proper care of children in the home.

“We are continuing to work with the state in the steps involved in the plan,” said Sarah Norris, program administrator for Gaston’s Children and Family Services. Staff writer Joe DePriest contributed.

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