RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Calling the Nash County Department of Social Services slow to respond to critical situations, the state has announced it will take over operations of the department.

“Our top priority is the well-being of children and families in North Carolina, and we take very seriously our role in providing safety for the children involved in the child welfare system,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Taking this urgent, temporary action will help us work collaboratively with Nash County leadership to strengthen the county’s ability to deliver child welfare services and guarantee the safety of children.”

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says it will assume control on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

NCDHHS said it has worked with Nash County Department of Social Services since March 2023 to address concerns over their practice and delivery of child welfare services.

The previous month, the grandmother of an 8-year-old girl was charged with first-degree murder after the child was killed. Detectives said the child, Christal Lane, died after being severely beaten by 72-year-old Patricia Ricks.

After that incident, the state said they reviewed the case and found several policy violations including a failure to follow up with concerns from a child medical examiner.

In a letter to the Nash County Department of Social Services, the state said the county department was placed on a Corrective Action Plan due to inadequate safety planning and supervision to ensure the protection of children. In August 2023, NCDHHS followed up with an enhanced plan due to a near fatality and several serious abuse cases. The state said in these cases, Nash County DSS’ lack of thorough safety planning and strong decision-making continued to leave children unprotected.

The state says it has worked with Nash County DSS to put protocols in place to help staff with decision-making to assure safety. The state says that while the county has added more contracted resources, its governance structure is insufficient.

“Nash County has been slow to respond in critical situations, even when provided direct guidance and resources which include intensive intervention by NCDHHS staff over the
last three weeks. Concerns about safety planning have continued, creating a substantial risk to children, and have led to children being harmed,” the state’s letter read.

In statement, Nash County Manager Stacie Shatzer said, “We support the state in this temporary action to make sure children in Nash County are safe, and we welcome the additional support and training our staff will receive through this process.”