Bipartisan legislation overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly last month that takes steps to fix the ongoing challenges in North Carolina’s child welfare system. It was signed into law on June 21.
“Rylan’s Law” (House Bill 630) was named after Rylan Ott, a Moore County toddler who drowned in a pond after he was put back in his mother’s care only two months after being removed because of her drug and weapons charges. The judge’s decision to return Rylan to the troubled home was made despite objections from the guardian ad litem; the state’s Department of Social Services then failed to supervise the situation, never requiring home visitations. His mother, Samantha Bryant, was sentenced to 19 months in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and negligent child abuse.
In 2013, North Carolina made national headlines when an 11-year old Union County boy was discovered handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken hanging around his neck. His foster parents, Wanda Sue Larson and Dorian Harper, later pled guilty to felony child abuse; shockingly, Larson was a supervisor for Union County’s own Department of Social Services — the same agency entrusted to care for the child.
Sadly, these cases are not isolated events. A 2015 federal performance review had North Carolina failing in every measured category and these findings were confirmed the next year in an independent evaluation by PCG, a government government contracting firm. Both showed pervasive systemic problems with North Carolina’s child welfare system.
To help prevent future cases like Rylan’s, HB630 requires county DSS agencies to observe a child with his or her parents at least twice prior to reunification. This provision is one of many included in the legislation that will address the issues that led to failed reviews and child fatalities.
Specifically, the bill:
- Regionalizes supervision of local DSS offices;
- Provides state DHHS with greater authority and responsibility to hold county agencies accountable for child outcomes;
- Brings in a third party to develop and implement recommendations to transform child welfare services in North Carolina;
- Requires social workers to observe a child with his/her parents at least twice before reunification (Rylan’s law);
- Creates a council to align children’s services across government agencies;
- Reduces barriers for youth in foster care to drive;
- Reduces the time to permanency for children in the child welfare system.
“This legislation is a step in the right direction and puts the child above the current social services system, that in some parts of our state is failing our children, by demanding transparency, accountability, and quality of care for children in foster care. It’s time we reform our foster care system in favor of our children. They deserve nothing less,” said Representative David Lewis, who helped shepherd the new law through the legislature.