State recommends three additional positions for child welfare services

News

MURPHY, N.C. – At the April 23 Cherokee County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, Michael Becketts, assistant secretary for North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), updated the board on the status of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and specifically child welfare services, in Cherokee.

Becketts told commissioners the DHHS had conducted on-site reviews of all programs from April 2 through 6, including child welfare services, at DSS.

“I’m happy to report that, by policy, the other parts of social services appear to be in substantial compliance,” Becketts stated. “I think that’s really good news for Cherokee County, and I do appreciate the effort and that was done not alone – the department (DHHS) doesn’t have the authority to just really come in and do that – but in consultation with Mr. (Randy) Wiggins, county manager, we did that review.”

Becketts explained to the board that Cindy Palmer, director of DSS, had submitted a budget request to the BOC to expand the child welfare staff of the DSS by three positions during the 2018-19 fiscal year. According to Becketts, Palmer proposed one program manager and two child welfare social workers.

While DHHS agreed with the need for three additional positions, Becketts stated after a recent examination of the organizational structure of the child welfare department of DSS in regard to the current workload, DHHS recommended a slight modification to the job specifications of the positions.

Instead of one program manager and two social workers, DHHS recommends one assistant director for child welfare services, one child welfare quality assurance specialist, and one foster care social worker.

“Your child welfare services has grown and needs more executive leadership within the department,” Becketts said of the assistant director and quality assurance specialist positions. “There are a number of federal changes that are happening to child welfare.”

According to information from DHHS, the annual salaries for the three proposed positions are $48,842 for the assistant director, $36,776 for the quality assurance specialist and $31,811 for the foster care social worker. Becketts recommended to the commissioners to approve a budget amendment for the 2017-18 fiscal year to allow DSS to begin recruiting qualified candidates instead of waiting until the beginning of the fiscal year, which begins July 1, to fill these positions.

“These three positions are critical to the continued success of child welfare in Cherokee County,” Becketts stated.

County Finance Director Candy Anderson explained that a pro-rated amount of $18,447 would cover the salaries for the three positions for the six weeks leading up to the beginning of the 2018-19 fiscal year. She also added $3,422 would account for office supplies and technology costs for the additional positions. The county would later receive an approximate 60 percent reimbursement from the state for salaries, which would leave county’s pro-rated cost at $8,748 for salaries.

For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the county could expect to pay $65,935 in salaries and benefits for the three positions after the state reimbursement, according to Anderson.

“I understand what you’re saying,” Commissioner C.B. McKinnon told Becketts. “In considering a budget, there’s lots of things to consider, so until we know what we’re doing with our complete budget it’s hard to make a decision on an individual position and going ahead and bumping that into this year.”

McKinnon also stated he was uncomfortable with modification of the positions from DHHS. “I’d like more input from Director Palmer before we consider that,” McKinnon stated. “We normally will go through and the director will give us the need for these positions and justify these positions.”

Later, when McKinnon reiterated his opposition to the modifications, Becketts explained the quality assurance specialist is the only position seeing any major change to that initially requested by Palmer.

Commissioner Cal Stiles endorsed the positions and the recommendations from the state saying, “I’d like to see us move forward with it. I know Director Palmer has mentioned several times about the staff shortage … With that $8,700 to finish out this year, I think for that amount of money it’d be a good investment to go ahead and try to work with you (Becketts) and then work with Director Palmer to get what she needs out there to get it back up to the level of service that we need for our children here in the county. So, I’d recommend it.”

After further discussion, the proposal to add the three DSS positions and the budget revision was approved 4-1 with McKinnon voting against.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

State officials assume operations of Cherokee County child welfare services

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MURPHY, N.C. – After an executive session at the March 19 Cherokee County Board of Commissioners meeting, Michael Becketts, assistant secretary for human services with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), spoke to the commissioners about the recent NCDHHS oversight into the county Department of Social Services (DSS) child welfare services.

Earlier in the day, a team of eight representatives from NCDHHS arrived in Cherokee County and assumed leadership of child welfare services at the Cherokee County Department of Social Services (DSS), as authorized under state law.

According to a statement from Kelly Haight, press assistant for the NCDHHS office of communications, “DHHS initiated an investigation of child welfare services in Cherokee County after learning that the Cherokee Department of Social Services had been using ‘Custody and Visitation Agreements’ in removing children from parents and placing them in other homes without the required oversight of the court system. Subsequent information gathered during DHHS’ investigation revealed a systematic lack of adequate training, supervision and capacity to deliver appropriate child welfare services beyond the use of the Custody and Visitation Agreements.”

According to information from NCDHHS, over 2,000 child protective service cases dating back to 2008 in which a Custody and Visitation Agreement was utilized were reviewed. After reviewing information from 29 of those cases, a letter from NCDHHS including a corrective action plan was sent the Cherokee County DSS March 13.  However, in the two days following the letter sent to Cherokee DSS, new information provided to NCDHHS led the state agency to feel that the Cherokee County DSS “is not providing child welfare services in accordance with the law, rule and policy, and further, the failure to provide these services in accordance with the law, rule and policy poses a substantial threat to the safety and welfare of children in Cherokee County.”

A second letter from NCDHHS sent to the Cherokee County DSS further states that pursuant to “authority under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 108A-74(c), NCDHHS will begin assuming temporary direction operation of the child welfare services in Cherokee County on Monday, March 19, 2018.”

“Our first priority is to protect the safety and well-being of the vulnerable children and families in need of child welfare services across our state,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “There is a lot of work to be done to bring Cherokee County Department of Social Services into compliance with laws, policies and appropriate child welfare practices.”

At the commissioners meeting, Becketts told the board the NCDHHS team, in its short time in Cherokee County, the team had already met with “county leadership,” including the Board of Commissioners, County Manager Randy Wiggins, and Cherokee County DSS Director Cindy Palmer.

“What we found in our approach is a rather supportive community for our role here in Cherokee County,” Becketts said. “While it is not necessarily the happiest occasion for us to be in Cherokee County, we do appreciate how you have welcomed us into your community.”

Among the team from NCDHHS, as Becketts explained, are individuals with familiarity and extensive experience in the fields of child welfare services, social services, foster care and adoption.

“We brought some really good minds and people who are used to not only western North Carolina but are familiar with Cherokee County,” Becketts added.

Becketts stated the team has divided its work into three areas: “One is related to the known issue of the Custody and Visitation Agreements; one is aligning child welfare practice in Cherokee County DSS with law, policy and rule; and the other body of work is … restoring the faith that the community has in the DSS to do good work on behalf of vulnerable children.”

Becketts told the commissioners the team, in its first day, had already noted two critical areas of improvement for the county DSS: support for the DSS attorney and a need for staff training.

“What we want to do is take an opportunity to continue to access the situation, and over the course this week and probably next, work with the county manager to develop a strategy on how we will actually be able to effectively support child welfare services in Cherokee County,” Becketts continued.

On Wednesday afternoon, March 21, an executive session meeting was held with members from NCDHHS team and Cherokee County DSS board members. Bob Cochran, children’s program representative for the NCDHHS team, confirmed no official action was taken during Wednesday closed session meeting.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Robert Andrew Defore pled guilty to first-degree forcible sexual offense

News

MURPHY, N.C. — Robert Andrew Defore, 41, of Andrews pled guilty to first-degree
forcible sexual offense in Cherokee County Superior Court presided over by the Honorable
Gary Gavenus on Nov. 13, 2017

In August 2015, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office received a request from the
Andrews Police Department to assist in a sexual assault investigation involving Defore and a
minor child. Pursuant to that allegation, a joint investigation was conducted which concluded
with the arrest of Defore.

Judge Gavenus sentenced Defore to a maximum of 29 years in prison, and he will serve
at least 20 years before he is eligible for release. Upon his release from prison, Defore will be
monitored by a satellite GPS tracking system, he will be required to register as a sex offender for
the remainder of his life, and he is prohibited from ever having contact with the victim.

“This conviction keeps a very dangerous child predator off the streets while he serves a
lengthy prison sentence and sends a strong message to the community that the District Attorney’s
office places the highest priority on protecting our children. I commend all of the dedicated
professionals who partner with the District Attorney’s office to give a strong voice to our most
vulnerable victims. Congratulations on a job well done,” said District Attorney Ashley Welch.

Sheriff Palmer said, “(This was) great team work by some very dedicated individuals. We echo District
Attorney Welch’s sentiments and will continue to fight those who attempt to rob our youth of
their innocence.”

Sheriff Palmer encourages anyone that has information on this crime or any other to
report it. To report crime in Cherokee County, you can call the anonymous tip line at 828-837-
1344 or email a tip at crime.tips@cherokeecounty-nc.gov or call 911 if you observe a crime in
progress.

Murphy man sentenced in assault case

News

MURPHY, N.C. — William Kraig Moran, 53, of Murphy pled guilty to statutory rape in
Cherokee County Superior Court presided over by the Honorable Gary Gavenus on Nov.
13, 2017.

In July 2017, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s received a complaint alleging that Moran
had sexually assaulted a minor child. The joint investigation was conducted involving the Cherokee
County Sheriff’s Office, Cherokee County Department of Social Services, HAVEN Child
Advocacy Center, and the 30th District Attorney’s Office. The joint investigation culminated in the arrest of Moran.

Judge Gavenus sentenced Moran to a maximum of 21 years and 8 months in prison, and
he will serve at least 13 years and 10 months before he is eligible for release. Upon his release
from prison, Moran will be monitored by a GPS satellite tracking system, and he will be required
to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.

“This conviction keeps a very dangerous child predator off the streets while he serves a
lengthy prison sentence and sends a strong message to the community that the District Attorney’s
office places the highest priority on protecting our children. I commend all of the dedicated
professionals who partner with the District Attorney’s office to give a strong voice to our most
vulnerable victims. Congratulations on a job well done,” said District Attorney Ashley Welch.

Sheriff Palmer said, “Again, (this was) great team work by some very dedicated individuals. We echo
District Attorney Welch’s sentiments and will continue to fight those who attempt to rob our
youth of their innocence.”

Sheriff Palmer encourages anyone that has information on this crime or any other to
report it. To report crime in Cherokee County, you can call the anonymous tip line at 828-837-
1344 or email a tip at crime.tips@cherokeecounty-nc.gov or call 911 if you observe a crime in
progress.

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