Union DSS hires consultant to improve system in wake of child abuse case

03/23/2014 4:36 PM

03/23/2014 5:58 PM

Union County has hired a consultant to help the Division of Social Services make changes in the wake of a child abuse case involving one of its former supervisors.

The county hired Chuck Harris for a six-month period for about $28,000, said Richard Matens, director of the county Department of Human Services, which includes DSS. Harris is a former state DSS child welfare director who started work for the county this month and will work in Monroe about 1 1/2 days a week.

Matens said Harris has a lot of experience with helping to improve DSS operations.

“We wanted him because we are in a transition of the administration of child welfare programs,” Matens said.

DSS is overhauling its practices after the November arrest of child protective services supervisor Wanda Larson and her longtime boyfriend, Dorian Harper, on child abuse charges. Larson was the guardian of an 11-year-boy who was found handcuffed to her Monroe-area house with a dead chicken tied around his neck.

She was fired soon after her arrest, and the county asked the state Department of Health and Human Services to review its DSS practices.

The state said it would also review Gaston County DSS, because both counties placed children in the Harper-Larson home. Over a 12-year period, 36 children were under foster care by Larson and Harper, court records show.

Additional abuse allegations involving the couple and the 11-year-old were detailed in a December indictment.

In early March, the state issued a report detailing concerns and recommendations for Union and Gaston DSS. The state also told the counties they needed to develop a plan for enacting recommended changes.

The state highlighted Union’s problems with documenting the initial handling of child abuse cases, a lack of reasonable effort to get all information needed in certain cases and other issues.

Harris will help Union County develop its plan, as will the state, Matens said. He hopes to have the plan implemented by the end of June.

Harris also will help the county in hiring a new child welfare administrator. In early March, the county fired the person who had that job, citing her lack of full support for the mandated changes in DSS in its dismissal notice.

“This (hiring of Harris) is over and above what the state has recommended,” Matens said. “Union County is taking the extra step to do what’s right.”

DSS also recently appointed a child protective services supervisor as its liaison with law enforcement to help ensure consistent communication when cases cross over into both jurisdictions, Matens said.

Meanwhile, Harper remains in Union County Jail on $500,000 bond. Larson has a $520,000 bond.

Larson was transferred from the jail to a prison in Raleigh for medical reasons about two weeks ago, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said. He declined to discuss the reason for the transfer. Larson’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

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