By Lisa Baldwin- Buncombe’s Department of Social Services (DSS) is riddled with heart-wrenching problems related to child placement.
After a federal review of Children’s Protective Services cases in Buncombe and ten other North Carolina counties, the state was fined $1.7 million. An “improvement plan” will be put into place but not before multiple families are torn apart.
Family preservation is supposed to be the goal of DSS but according to a DSS whistleblower the opposite is occurring. Instead of trying to restore families, children remain in foster care for years. In spite of parents, and even grandparent’s, extreme efforts, these children are often subjected to foster parent adoptions based on false information. Plus, court cases are intentionally prolonged, draining finances and mentally exhausting relatives trying to get their children back.
Why aren’t children returned to deserving parents or grandparents?
“Economic Development” is more important than family bonds. DSS is a Job Producer for multiple therapists, attorneys, social workers and other service providers. One child can create jobs for at least five people: Therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists for the child, therapeutic counselors for the foster parent to teach them to parent the child, taxpayer-funded attorneys for DSS and for the Guardian ad litem (a volunteer advocate for the child), and state-appointed attorneys for the natural parents. Economic development before family preservation?
Foster parent adoptions can payout $85,000 or more to DSS and the foster parents. Perverse federal and North Carolina state incentives encourage adoptions that amount to child stealing. A Buncombe DSS whistleblower recounted the story of foster parents who wanted to adopt the child in their care. The social worker told the foster parents that she would arrange meetings with the birth mother at inconvenient times. Because the social worker knew the birth mother didn’t have a car, she planned the meetings when the city bus did not run. The social worker told these foster parents that she would then write up the parent as a “no-show.” Parents have also been intentionally left out of meetings that ultimately decide their child’s fate/placement.
A 6 year old child recently died in DSS care. When a social worker tried to ask the Buncombe Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) oversight board for an investigation into the case, she found that the Board had permanently removed its public comment period from their monthly agenda. Won’t pretending problems don’t exist put more children at risk of injury or death?
Lila Pickering was stabbed by her father in what might be called a tragic and unnecessary “mercy” killing. Her father, Seth Pickering, a disabled veteran, told police, “Ten minutes before [the Blue Ridge Parkway ranger] got there, my daughter made me promise that they (DSS) would never take her away from me again. I reacted the only way I knew she could go to sleep without having to cry, ‘Daddy I want to come home,” Pickering said, adding, “I knew as soon as they showed up, they would take her away from me and never let me see her again.’”
Lila’s mother had been fighting the courts and DSS to get her child. “I went to leave and a cop was supposed to send Lila with me, and he didn’t, and I’ve been fighting with the courts and DSS,” Ashley Pickering, Lila’s mother, said. DSS has not answered the questions as to why Lila’s DSS appointed-caregiver waited 45 minutes before calling the police when Lila’s father took her.
Cindy Dabil, Lila’s grandmother says DSS Child Protective Services in Florida and in North Carolina should have done more to protect Lila. She hopes Lila’s tragic death will serve as a call to action to better protect children from abuse, and to make changes to improve the safety of children living in state care.
This death was preventable. There were relatives who could have taken the child. DSS is supposed to go to the family first. That is why the Kinship Program exists. North Carolina DHHS Policy 1201 states, “County Departments of Social Services shall strive to strengthen and preserve the family. In keeping with Federal law, North Carolina law and policy require that, when a juvenile must be removed from his home, the County DSS Director shall give preference to an adult relative or other kin when determining placement, provided that (1) the placement is assessed by the agency to be in the best interests of the child in terms of both safety and nurture; and (2) the prospective caregiver and the living situation are assessed and determined to meet relevant standards.”
But if DSS is to receive adoption assistance funds (the money grab), the child must have been in DSS care first. This is true even if a relative wants to adopt the child. Some children have been in foster care for years without being adopted because DSS repeatedly delays custody hearing when parents and other relatives fight to get their children back. DSS employs various techniques to discourage them from getting these “valuable commodities.” Parents are demoralized and made to feel unfit. Social workers tell the guardian ad litem (supposed to advocate for the child’s best interest) lies about the parents and grandparents, e.g., accusing them of using drugs when this was in their past or never occurred. DSS “home visits” to assess the relative’s environment are not occurring or the “standards” are impossilbe to reach. At the same time, the foster parent can do no wrong.
Unfairly, DSS has a habit of basing the removal of a child on the parent’s past. According to our DSS whistleblower, drug-free babies are being ripped from the arms of mothers at Mission Hospital, just because a previous sibling was born addicted to opioids. Nevermind that the mom is making a fresh start. Parents are not being offered the help they need – instead, the parenting classes are for the fosters. Therapeutic counselors are sent into foster homes 3 times a week to help the foster parent “bond” with the child when the maternal bond exists with the natural parent. I have seen judges like Susan Dotson-Smith, angrily refuse to give parents custody because they continue to bond with their children on supervised visits. Because The Tribune has reported on this judge’s unethical courtroom behavior, she now periodically closes the courtroom and doesn’t allow the public in to see her dress down mothers. (See “Buncombe Child Protective Services: Legal Kidnapping” story.)
Consider this true story (identities changed to protect confidentiality): A foster parent dropped off her niece and the foster child with the foster child’s parent for an entire day while the foster went to a casino for a day of gambling. If a parent is deemed “unfit” and only gets 90 minutes of supervised time with their child each week, why would the foster parent do this? Because the parent is fit and the parent deserves custody of her child.
If you are disturbed by the information in this article, please contact your county commissioners and ask for an investigation of Buncombe DSS Director Amanda Stone and her department’s practices.