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State Finds Major Problems In Union County Child Welfare Program

Union County Sheriff's Office

A state review of the Union County Department of Human Services has found numerous failures in the agency's operations over the last three years. 

Union County asked the state to conduct the review after a child protective services supervisor was charged with child abuse in November after an eleven-year-old boy she was caring for was found handcuffed to a porch.

Though the case of Wanda Sue Larson spurred the review, the report found problems that went beyond her role at DSS. 

And what the state found was a broken system. The report primarily blames a lack of leadership. Richard Matens who became executive director of Union County's DHS in June says the problems go back five years.

"Having three permanent directors and two times when we had interim directors within these programs created a great deal of instability within these programs and so a lot of times, things weren't followed through," Matens says. 

State health officials reviewed a total of 93 random cases between 2010 and 2013. DHHS says they "were selected using multiple risk factors related to areas of concern." The report found a lack of quality control and many cases of missing or incomplete documentation.

There was no system in place to track and review cases – what a social worker wrote on the field was sometimes different from what they would later type into the computer system creating erroneous reports.

And the review also found that Union County's social workers were completing their reports about 20 percent faster than the statewide average. That should be a good thing …  but in this case, it shows workers were rushed, unsupervised and sloppy. Often, no one followed up with potential victims and their families.

Matens says the problems are being addressed.

"Everything in there was pretty much what we expected, what we needed to look at and correct," Matens says. "In fact, we've already made several of the suggested changes anyway. So we felt really, in that sense, very good that we've already made progress towards those goals."

For example, he's hired someone to review every intake investigation, the ratio of supervisors to social workers has increased and field workers are now using tablets in the field so that there's no error in the duplication process.

State health officials also did a review of the Gaston County Division of Social Services because it provided a foster care license to Wanda Sue Larson, the Union County child services supervisor who was charged with child abuse. The state found problems with Gaston County's licensing system.