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Girl's death could impact state programs to protect children

Posted November 24, 2009

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— The death of a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl is already resonating through hallways of the Legislative Building, where lawmakers say state programs designed to protect children need more support.

Shaniya Nicole Davis was reported missing from her home on Nov. 10. Her body was found in a patch of kudzu off a rural road near the Lee-Harnett County line six days later.

She died of asphyxiation, according to preliminary autopsy results.

Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, of 2613 Pine Springs Drive, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a child and first-degree kidnapping in the case. Police have characterized him as a family acquaintance.

Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, 25, has been charged with human trafficking, felony child abuse–prostitution, filing a false police report and obstructing a police investigation. Arrest warrants state that Davis "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."

The Cumberland County Department of Social Services previously looked at Davis with regard to her 7-year-old son, according to family members. But it's unclear how much contact DSS workers had with the family because the agency has declined to release information related to the case, citing the criminal investigation and privacy concerns.

Lawmakers said Tuesday that they wonder if DSS could have done more to intervene and prevent Shaniya's death, but they acknowledged that deep budget cuts have left the system poorly staffed.

"Our child protective services are really not adequate at all," said state Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who chairs the appropriations committee for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"When we face a budget cut, it's often the programs that serve children that are overlooked. They're the first to be cut and the last to be restored," Insko said.

DSS agencies face growing caseloads and high turnover among young, inexperienced staff, she said – a combination that can become dangerous.

Last year, 58 children were homicide victims in North Carolina, and authorities deemed children had been abused in 33 of those cases. It's unclear in any of the cases whether the abuse was known beforehand or came to light only after the child died.

"What we need to do is to prevent the crime from happening. That's where the focus needs to be," said state Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.

Ross served on a study committee three years ago that made recommendations to improve Child Protective Services programs in the state. In this year's budget, $900,000 was included to provide extra training for social workers.

She said she hopes that lawmakers will remembers Shaniya's death when the General Assembly reconvenes next May and that it will provide an impetus for improving Child Protective Services programs.

"Any kind of situation like the one we've seen in Cumberland County is unacceptable," she said. "Investing money in preventing child abuse and investigating incidents of child abuse has not become the priority that it needs to be."


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  • Myra Nov 25, 2009

    58 children were homicide victims in North Carolina. Dear God. Where is NC Atty General Roy Cooper and why is he so silent? This is definitely something he needs to address. The Governor has also remained silent on this child's death and this issue. I guess cutting those budgets that protect children are more important and she doesn't want to explain her budget cuts. NOTHING is more important than protecting children. Unfortunately, children do not seem to be a 'priority' in North Carolina. This issue will die away and the focus will be on something else and the children will be forgotten AGAIN. There is a website out there called protected to death by CPS. It has stories and photos. There are thousands of sex offenders living in NC, one of the most recent arrests was the Eastover elementary school principal who was accused of molesting a 3 year old girl in his home. How sick do they have to get before the Attorney General gets involved.

  • ladyblue Nov 25, 2009

    It seems to me the problem is after the work is done and the investigations are over you slap the wrists of the abuser and then send the children back. Will more money correct that?

  • wildcat Nov 25, 2009

    The social services need to hire more people to do the job, then maybe children will be safe and alive.

  • wildcat Nov 25, 2009

    This is not the first time social services in NC have failed a child. Yes, something needs to be done now so no more children are abused or lose their life.

  • Adelinthe Nov 25, 2009

    jaw - "WE have to get involved if we are to assist the understaffed department. WE are the first to see the signs and conditions."

    You do realize the authorities don't listen to "WE."

    I once lived across from a family - grandmother/grandad, mother/father, and a 2 year old little girl.

    None of those adults could keep a good watch on that child; even when they were sitting right out in the yard with her, they'd be chatting, and she'd be walking right down the middle of the street.

    WE found that child up by the bank of mailboxes 4 blocks away. They didn't even know she was gone.

    WE found her crying in the woods. They didn't know she was gone.

    WE saw her playing out in the rain. They didn't even know it was raining outside cause they hadn't checked on her regularly.

    Several neighbors called the authorities several times. They came out and inspected ONE time and said there was no basis for our complaints.

    That's what happens.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Nov 25, 2009

    shadow - "We can't put all the blame on the State workers...they are too understaffed."


    This entire tragedy can be laid at the feet of two sources:

    1. The legislature who approves the budgets, and

    2. The rule makers who limit what a case worker can do to protect an innocent.

    And it's reckless and disgusting.

    The rules need to be changed so that, in every single case, if there's a whisper of a problem, the child(ren) is fully protected until the entire situation can be fully investigated. Remove them to foster care or to a responsible relative, or heck - start orphanages again but inspect them thoroughly and regularly.

    I have two friends that were sheltered in two separate Catholic orphanages, and they have nothing but good memories of those times, so they weren't all bad.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Nov 25, 2009


    Much too late for this child.

    It disgusts me how agencies and governments and authorities always choose to put innocents at risk just to balance a budget.

    There has to be better ways to save money than this.

    Praying they fry that sucker!!!

    God bless.


  • so you dont like my opinion ok Nov 25, 2009

    So when DSS goes out and investigates a situation and they find drugs in the house, surely that is the time to remove children from the house!! Drug test the mothers and if they are positive remove the children so the parents don't get help, consequences are often the solution, so the parents know if they are drug tested they won't get help or have their children, maybe then they will begin to think....

  • Weaker Pelosi Nov 25, 2009

    The reason the turnover rate among young social workers is so high is because the state pays peanuts, not nearly enough to keep good people in their jobs.

  • SouthernLady05 Nov 25, 2009

    I get so dag on tired of hearing our lawmakers say something needs to be done. You know what.... something should have been done before this little girl was murdered! Something should have been done before Eve Carson was murdered! It makes me sick that only after a tragedy, Lawmakers try to get their names in the news with the "Something needs to be done" BS. It's your JOB to get these things done and aviod this... that's what your were voted in for. Almost always the people who commit the crimes have past history's where the ball has been dropped somewhere. It burns me up that lawmakers continually cut budgets of agency's like DSS, DOC and Probation & Parole... leave them understaffed, overworked, and make it virtually impossible to do their jobs. And then when something like this happens, they "look into" the agency. It's time to start making the powers that be held responsible, and not blame the agency heads (DSS, DOC, etc) who's hands are essentialy tied.