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Advocacy group calls for outside DSS investigation over confined child

CHARLOTTE (AP) — A child advocacy group is calling for an outside agency to investigate how a North Carolina social services agency handles cases, nearly two weeks after an 11-year-old boy was found by a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken tied to his neck.
“This case is disturbing,” Jeff Gerber, founder of the Justice for All Coalition, said Monday.
The boy’s foster mother, Wanda Larson, was a child-protection investigations supervisor with Union County Department of Social Services. She was fired last week for “unacceptable personal conduct and grossly inefficient job performance.”
The state Division of Social Services has agreed to the Union County’s request to review how employees handle adoptions, foster care and child protection.
But Gerber said that’s not enough. He’d like the attorney general’s office or a police agency to investigate.
“I want a third party involved. I don’t want a possible conflict of interest. This is too important,” he said.
Others are calling for increased scrutiny of the agency.
Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez wants the county DSS to reopen all investigations Larson handled while she was a supervisor.
Larson, and Dorian Harper, both 57 and from Monroe, were arrested two weeks ago after the deputy found the boy. They are both charged with intentional child abuse, false imprisonment and cruelty to animals.
Larson is also charged with failing to discharge her duty as a public official.
She was being held on $525,000 bond; Harper remained jailed on $500,000 bond.
The couple had adopted four children and were foster parents to the boy.
Investigators in Union County interviewed the boy as well as the four other children removed from the home. Sheriff Eddie Cathey wouldn’t reveal what the children said.
The children are now in the custody of the Davidson County Division of Social Services
Gerber said his group would push for new legislation to protect children, including strengthening qualifications for social service workers. In North Carolina, DSS workers aren’t required to have a degree in social work.
His group has successfully lobbied for legislation in the past, including a recent law requiring longer sentences for convicted child abusers.
Gerber said problems with social service workers extend beyond Union County. In the wake of the case, his group has fielded calls from people who say they filed complaints about child abuse with DSS in other North Carolina counties, but nothing happened. He added that former social services workers have called, saying they were overworked and forced to close cases.
“This is a big problem and we’re going to stay on top this,” he said.

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