A three-member panel will begin work early next month on its investigation into the Moore County Department of Social Services’ handling of a case involving a 23-month-old toddler who drowned this spring, four months after a judge returned him to his mother.
County Attorney Misty Leland told the Board of Social Services Wednesday afternoon during its monthly meeting that all three contracts have been executed and that the county will provide space in the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center for the panel to conduct its work.
The DSS board had earlier said it wants the investigation done outside of the DSS offices in to maintain its independence. Board members voted in August to ask for a second independent investigation into the Rylan Ott case to ensure nothing was missed in a review done in July by the Durham County DSS. The county has declined to release that report, saying it is confidential under state law.
During the public comment period at the start of the meeting, Pamela Reed, a former Guardian Ad Litem previously assigned to Rylan’s custody case, charged that the court report done by its Child Protective Services (CPS) contains “false information.” She urged that the investigators look beyond what is in the court file and ask “hard questions” to get to the truth.
Rylan and his older sister were taken away from their mother in October 2015 and placed with foster parents at Fort Bragg. A District Court judge returned the children to their mother following a Dec. 17, 2015, hearing.
The little boy wandered away from his home in Vass in April, fell in a pond and drowned. His mother, Samantha Nacole Bryant, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in her son’s death.
Reed, the child’s foster parents and others have said CPS supervisors ignored numerous red flags about Bryant’s behavior, which they had repeatedly raised, as well as a recommendation against trial placement by the case manager assigned to the family.
Reed told the board that she hopes investigators will review sworn statements of former case managers that she previously submitted, as well as exit interviews from 2015 to “understand the climate within CPS that contributed to the 80 percent turnover” in case workers that year.
“If it does not consider these issues, it could easily waste this county’s time and resources,” she said.
Reed took strong exception to a statement by Social Services Director John Benton in the Dec. 18 edition of The Pilot denying her allegations that the court report was “filtered.” She said she wanted to “remind the agency leadership of a few irrefutable facts that were omitted” from the report.
She said there is nothing in the report stating that for nearly a month, the foster family was “afraid” of allowing the mother in their home for visits with Rylan and his sister because of her “erratic” behavior. She said the report also does not mention that the case worker suspended the mother’s visitations at the foster home and that they were moved to the DSS office in Carthage. She has asserted that the main reason supervisors pushed for trial placement was because they did not want to be burdened with transporting the children back and forth between Carthage and Fort Bragg.
Reed added that there was no mention of the fact that CPS failed to conduct one single observation of a visit of that “volatile parent” with her children.
In the report, when asked to describe “how the momma was demonstrating her ability to parent her children independently,” it simply stated that she currently has supervised visits at the foster parents’ home three days a week for 90 minutes, Reed said.
Reed said that in trying to “exhibit restraint and remain respectful” of the department’s leadership, she chose to use “nice, polite terms like ‘filtered’ and ‘watered down’” in referring to the court report.
“It is not watered down,” she told the board. “It’s false information. It’s factually incorrect and it was put before a judge in order to determine whether or not a baby boy in diapers should be placed back at home.
“It’s crooked and it’s wrong. And it sent a child back to a home that wasn’t ready for him. As a member of the community, I am truly sickened to hear the leadership of this organization defend its report as not filtered.”
Reed urged the five members of the board to “please show this community that Rylan’s death will not be in vain. Please require decency and honesty to prevail. Because nothing will change if there are no consequences for how Rylan’s case was handled.”
As has been their customary response, board members did not respond to her comments.
Later in the meeting, Leland outlined the backgrounds of the three members who will conduct the investigation. They are working as temporary county employees in order for them to have access to confidential records, according to Leland.
Two are local residents — Laura Cockman of Whispering Pines and David Lambert of Robbins. The third member is Daniel Beerman of Fairview in Buncombe County.
Leland said Beerman has an “extensive background” in social work. He formerly served as director of social programs for the Forsyth County DSS, which includes adult services and child protective services. He holds a master’s degree in social work and has been a professor and taught and various colleges and universities, including Wake Forest.
Cockman worked for Moore County DSS for 12 years as a social worker and then as a social work supervisor. She was an adult protective services consultant and adult program consultant for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for 14 years. She now provides statewide training on protective services.
Lambert holds a law degree from Elon University and currently serves as Robbins town manager. He previously worked as a case coordinator for Randolph County family court dealing with domestic and juvenile matters. He also has some experience working with the Guardian Ad Litem program.
Under the terms of the their contracts, they have until Feb. 28 to complete the work. They will be paid $500 plus mileage reimbursement.
Leland also reviewed the scope of their work, which the board approved in October. They are to determine if the Department of Social Services handled the Ott case in accordance with state laws and the department’s own policies.
The panel is to review all records and files related to the case and all records of the court proceedings — including the audio recording — last December, as well as a copy of the report done this summer by the Durham County DSS and the county’s response. Board attorney Ward Medlin, Benton and other staff members must be available to meet with the investigators.
Leland said copies of the mother’s criminal history and law enforcement incident reports will also be provided to the investigators.
Leland said if the panel determines that the department did not follow state law and proper policy, it is to make recommendations “for appropriate changes and remedial action that should be implemented.”