DOBSON — A recent disbanding of a child protection team comes as many agencies across the state are making changes to comply with a new law.
Over the summer, the N.C. General Assembly passed HB 630, also known as Rylan’s Law, after a toddler who died last year. The law affects how Social Services handles child welfare cases.
Kristy Preston, county Social Services director, told the Surry County Board of Commissioners that one of the key parts of the law is something Surry County already has been doing on its own, but a lot of places don’t.
If children are taken away from their parents and placed in foster care, HB 630 requires that caseworkers observe foster children interacting with their parents again on at least two visits (of at least an hour) spread at least a week apart before recommending to a judge on whether or not the family should be reunited at that time.
The law is named after Rylan Ott, a Moore County child two weeks shy of his second birthday who left his Carthage home and drowned in a pond in April 2016. According to published reports, his mother has since pleaded guilty to child abuse and involuntary manslaughter for his death.
Rylan’s Law and the Protection & Accountability Act are needed to prevent child deaths, state Sen. Tamara Barringer urged in June during Senate debate. Children such as Rylan, she said, are dying while under the supervision of local Social Services departments.
Rylan was taken from his mother in fall 2015 and placed with foster parents following a domestic violence incident between her and her boyfriend. A judge returned him to his mother in December 2015.
“Despite numerous red flags, objections from the foster parents and objections from the Guardian ad Litem, the toddler was placed back with his parent without a caseworker ever observing the child with that parent,” Barringer said.
Rylan’s Guardian ad Litem, Pam Reed, began pressuring the Moore County Department of Social Services to investigate and also pressured her legislators to reform child welfare laws to prevent more deaths. Reed thinks Rylan’s caseworker would have recommended against Rylan’s return to his mother had she observed him interact with his mother.
From a management point of view, the law states, “It has been challenging for the State to effectively supervise administration of complex social services programs in 100 counties, and it would be more efficient and effective for the State to supervise fewer local agencies.”
To do this, the Department of Health and Human Services “shall develop a plan for establishing regional offices charged with supervision of administration of social services at the local level. The plan shall also identify any necessary legislative and regulatory changes necessary to improve regional collaboration among county or regional social services agencies or programs.”
The law doesn’t define how the state department must split up counties into regions, so there is no listing yet of which counties will be paired with Surry.
HB 630 also shortens the time frame given to parents to appeal a custody decision, creates a Child Well-Being Transformation Council, and requires the state to hire a contractor to review the statewide social services system.
“The General Assembly recognizes that not having a drivers license is a barrier to education, employment, health care, and other community-based activities for older youth in foster care … working toward independence,” states the law.
“One of the biggest barriers to accessing a drivers license for such youth is the ability to obtain insurance.
“Therefore, to assist in this effort, the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services, shall establish a two-year pilot program that shall reimburse, on a first-come, first-served basis, youth and caregivers’ costs associated with drivers license education, drivers license fees, insurance costs, and any other costs associated with obtaining a drivers license.”
All of these changes come at the same time as the county is working to replace its Community Child Protection Team.
Two weeks ago, Preston told the county board, “Our team has drifted away from its stated purpose and statutorily required membership. In an effort to bring this team back into compliance, we recommend disbanding the current team and reestablishing a new team.”
The commissioners voted in favor of Preston’s recommendation. Now they must see what comes next from the state.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.