After 8-year-old died under Nash County’s watch, NC to take over child welfare services

The state will temporarily assume leadership of child welfare services at the Nash County Department of Social Services after identifying several policy violations, and after the death of a child under the purview of Nash County DSS.

A letter sent Monday to Nash County leaders by Kody Kinsley, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, says DHHS will “begin assuming direct operation of the child welfare services in Nash County effective September 12, 2023.”

The letter, released Tuesday in a news release announcing the takeover, says DHHS became aware of a death Feb. 8, in an apparent reference to the killing of Christal Lane. The 8-year-old’s grandmother is charged with murder in her Feb. 7 death, ABC11, The News & Observer’s news gathering partner, reported. ABC11 reported that Nash County DSS received a report of suspected child abuse in mid-December and was investigating the family at the time of Christal’s death.

Asked to confirm the details of that case, DHHS spokesperson Kelly Haight Connor said the agency “cannot comment on the specifics of a child welfare case because of North Carolina confidentiality laws and rules.” But a March 17 letter shared by Haight Connor, sent by DHHS to Nash County leaders, notified the county that it must take corrective action within 30 days following a Feb. 7 child fatality, for which the county social services had an open case.

The March letter also says that in reviewing the Feb. 7 death, DHHS found various violations by the county social services, including failing to conduct proper supervision, follow up adequately on child medical exams, take new reports of injuries found and more. The county social services team also failed to follow policy in 23 other child protective services cases, the March letter says.

Monday’s letter says DHHS placed the county social services department on a corrective action plan after investigating the death. In August, DHHS followed up with an enhanced plan due to “a near fatality and several serious abuse cases where Nash County DSS’ lack of thorough safety planning and strong decision-making continued to leave children unprotected,” the letter says. Despite this, recent developments indicated that deficiencies and safety issues continued, the letter says.

The Nash County DSS director — currently Amy Pridgen-Hamlett — will be divested of powers under this role following the takeover, said the letter.

In response to an email to Pridgen-Hamlett for comment, Jonathan Edwards, communications manager for the county, wrote to “please refer to the press release from NCDHHS” regarding the takeover.

NCDHHS staff will be on site at Nash County DSS and “will work closely with staff to manage and stabilize child welfare services and develop a plan to bring it into compliance with all applicable laws and appropriate practices,” according to a news release issued by DHHS.

“We have a shared mission to better protect and serve children involved in the Nash County child welfare system,” Nash County Manager Stacie Shatzer said in the news release. “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.”

“Given the critical jobs performed by our very hard-working and dedicated child welfare services teams, we look forward to collaborating with NCDHHS to strengthen our work with vulnerable children and families,” Nash County commissioners Chair Robbie Davis said in the release.

Multiple counties under supervision

Haight Connor told The N&O that eight counties are under supervision and receiving support through a corrective action plan.

DHHS has assumed temporary operation of child welfare services for a county, permitted under state law, two other times: Cherokee County in March 2018 and Bertie County in May 2022. NCDHHS returned full control to Cherokee in October 2018 and Bertie in May 2023, Haight Connor said.