Sun Aug 14, 2022

Social Services hires consultant for ‘issues’

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Columbus County commissioners have authorized Social Services Director Algernon McKenzie to hire a consultant at $21,500 to help bring the department’s child welfare program into compliance with state regulations.

Commissioners McKenzie on the need for the consultant and stipulated that the consultant meet with the board at the beginning and end of his evaluation of local programs.

Exec Link Management Solutions submitted the $21,500 bid after McKenzie solicited proposals following state officials noting various errors after a record audit. State officials found that, among other things, a child fatality that should have been reported to state authorities in five days was reported after seven months. An

inadequate conflict of interest log and lack of proof of national criminal history record checks on providers was also among a list of concerns noted in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services report.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) told McKenzie the county would be required to hire someone from outside the department to help bring the agency into compliance. Wayne Black, the state DHHS director, had recommended another consultant that would cost $53,000 for three months’ work.

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The state will reimburse 40-50 percent of what the county has to pay, McKenzie said.

McKenzie told commissioners at their Aug. 15 meeting that the state is requiring social services to hire a consultant to help bring the department into compliance with child welfare regulations.

The next week, The News Reporter asked McKenzie for copies of documents from the state specifying where the county is not in compliance and outlining a proposed county plan of action, which has been partially completed. McKenzie still has not complied with the public record request. He said it needs to be reviewed by the department attorney, but state DHHS officials have partially responded to a separate public request from the newspaper for the same documents.

Still to be provided by either the county or the state is a copy of the directive, in which the county was mandated to hire an outside consultant. Kate Murphy, the DHHS public information chief, last week acknowledged receipt of the request for that document and said it would be forthcoming, but it had not been received as of press time.

The Columbus County Board of Commissioners serves at the county social services board after dissolving the social services board a few years ago.

Chairman Giles “Buddy” Byrd questioned Tuesday if meetings with the consultant could be conducted privately. County Attorney Mike Stephens advised him that any such meetings must take place in public.

Commissioner Trent Burroughs asked McKenzie why the county is having to hire a consultant and McKenzie answered, “The state is evaluating all 100 counties.”

McKenzie told the board his department created and submitted to the state a list fo problems with a corrective plan of action.

“Why don’t we just correct the problems if we already know what they are? Why pay a consultant?” Burroughs asked McKenzie.

McKenzie replied, “The state says that someone from the outside has to come in to provide oversight.”

“Is that mandatory?” Burroughs asked.

“Yes,” McKenzie replied.

Commissioner Ricky Bullard asked, “Is someone not doing their job?” McKenzie answered, “We have some issues.”

Burroughs told McKenzie that he received a letter from a social services employee, who he would not name, telling him that employees would do their jobs if they were paid enough money. Byrd interjected, “Employee morale (at social services) seems to be causing a lot of problems.”

Commissioner Amon McKenzie, who is not related to the social services director, said, “It seems to me you need more staff.”

In late August, public records obtained by the News Reporter showed in the program area of child protective services that records were not adequately kept at the agency.

A ‘responsible individual list’ wasn’t inclusive and didn’t track the entire process, and there is no evidence of required national criminal history record checks of providers, according to DHHS officials.

There had been limited effort to document and engage noncustodial and incarcerated parents of children subject to CPS intervention, according to the report.

It also cited inadequate structured decision-making tools and inadequate documentation of in-home family services agreements. Noncustodial parents were not involved in plan development or discussions, according to the report.

Six specific cases were cited in the documents but much of the documents were redacted for client confidentially.

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