Raleigh, N.C. — A bill requiring stricter oversight before social workers return a child to the custody of a parent received unanimous approval in the House on Wednesday as the case that inspired the measure was in a Moore County courtroom.
House Bill 630, which was approved unanimously, would require staffers from a county social services department to check on the home of a parent who recently lost custody of a child at least two successful times before the child could return back to that parent or guardian.
The bill is named Rylan's Law after 23-month-old Rylan Ott, who who wandered away from his Moore County home and drowned in a pond a half-mile away a year ago, shortly after his mother regained custody of him.
The toddler and his sister had been removed from their mother’s custody the previous fall because of an alcohol-fueled argument in the children's presence in which a gun was brandished. The children were later returned to Samantha Nacole Bryant against the wishes of Rylan's temporary guardian, Pam Reed.
Bryant, who was charged with felony child abuse and involuntary manslaughter after Rylan's death, has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and was expected to enter a guilty plea Wednesday. But the case was postponed because Rylan's father was out of state and needed to be notified about the deal and given a chance to present a statement in court.
Reed said the Moore County Department of Social Services never checked on Bryant to see if the home environment had changed before sending the children back, so she spearheaded the fight for Rylan's Law.
"Eighty percent of kids that die due to abuse and neglect have already been in an open CPS [Child Protective Services] case," she said. "If that's not heartbreaking, I don't know what our priorities are."
"If the court system removed a child from a home, why wouldn't you go back and make sure the home has changed and the environment has improved?" asked bill sponsor Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore.
Subsequent visits are considered best practice in North Carolina but aren't required.
"It’s common sense in a troubled home that had problems that social services should have to make home visits," said bill sponsor Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph.
The director of the Moore County Department of Social Services resigned in March after an internal investigation found the agency botched the case because of multiple "failures and omissions."
"The fatality rate is a huge indicator of systemic failure within DSS," said Reed, who received a standing ovation from House members for her efforts. "Having this law in place, I truly believe that it could lower that 80 percent number."