Local News

State accused of ignoring signs of abuse of handcuffed Union boy

Posted December 13, 2013

— Months before an 11-year-old boy was found handcuffed to a porch in Union County in November with a dead chicken tied to his neck, teachers at the boy's former school tried to alert authorities that he might be a victim of child neglect.

The boy's guardians, Wanda Sue Larson and Dorian Harper, have been indicted on 21 charges in connection with abuse that investigators say occurred in their home between August and November. The Monroe couple, both 57, are also accused of chaining the boy to a piece of railroad track in his room – he once broke his wrist trying to escape – and Harper is accused of cutting the boy's face with a knife and using an electric wire to burn his face.

Larson and Harper have been fired from their respective jobs as a supervisor with the local Department of Social Services and an emergency room nurse. Both remain in jail awaiting trial, and the boy and four other children have been removed from the home and are in the custody of the Davidson County Division of Social Services.

Bob Goodale, a former corporate executive and deputy secretary of the state Department of Commerce, said Friday that he's "appalled" by the allegations, especially because he tried to alert state officials to possible abuse more than a year ago.

Goodale's daughter is a teacher at Union Academy Charter School in Monroe, where the boy attended, and she contacted him for help because of his connections in state government.

She said she and other faculty members noticed the boy and the other children living with Larson and Harper were continually dirty and hungry, and they worried about child neglect, especially after the children were pulled out of Union Academy to be home-schooled.

Union County home where boy chained with dead chicken around his neck DHHS: Counties responsible for child abuse complaints

Teachers didn't know where to turn, she said, because Larson worked in the Union County DSS office.

"The problem was this was a DSS employee in the key job," said Goodale, who lives in Raleigh. "Where was the state DSS?"

WRAL News obtained an email chain confirming that Goodale contacted the state Division of Social Services about the Union County case, but there's no indication that the state ever followed up with the Union Academy teachers.

DHHS spokeswoman Julie Henry said Friday that all abuse cases are handled at the county level.

"By law, the county Department of Social Services is the agency that has the authority to accept and screen child protective service reports. It is protocol for the state to refer any reports of abuse to the county DSS office," Henry wrote in an email to WRAL News. "We encourage anyone to reach out to their county Department of Social Services if they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected."

What if the accused is a DSS supervisor? Goodale said he hopes who's in charge of investigating DSS will become part of a broader look at North Carolina's child welfare system.

"Clearly, there needs to be reform," he said, blaming the system and even himself for not pushing harder about the warning signs in the case. "We need to learn from this and take all possible steps to ensure this never, never happens again."

State officials have agreed to Union County's request to review how employees handle adoptions, foster care and child protection. Child advocacy groups have called for an outside group, such as the state Attorney General's Office, to investigate.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • crustyhalo Dec 16, 2013

    Union County DSS, should be revamped......fire everyone of her supervisors and hire people who are truly qualified to do this job. Obliviously the supervisors turned a blind eye because she was one of their own. Makes me wonder how many more like "this couple" is Union County DSS supporting.

  • ER_RN68 Dec 16, 2013

    These kids likely had come from abusive homes in the first place, only to wind up in another abusive place with the VERY people who are supposed to protect and nuture them. There were red flags and reports filed and STILL no one did a dang thing to protect these kids. That whole department needs to go.

    And where was the state-appointed guardian ad litem for this child???

  • weare8 Dec 13, 2013

    I agree with you Monami on the fact that we need reform, accountability and audits. But if you feel a child is ever abused or neglected a report should be made. You could save that child's life! Unfortunately there are some out there that abuse there authority and we need to have much better checks, but for the most they are hard at work. If you have it in your heart to protect these children even more please look into becoming a foster parent in your county. It could out to be one of the greatest joys of your life.

  • sinew1 Dec 13, 2013

    dead chicken was purely to inflict psychological damage to this child, period.

  • outhousecat Dec 13, 2013

    As a nurse, I'm sickened and disgusted that a nurse would harm a child. I certainly hope the Board of Nursing (which generally has nothing better to do than come up with new ways to make money from nurses and defend hospital policies that abuse nurses - end of rant) takes a close look at this guy's license. He should be revoked, not now but yesterday.

  • weare8 Dec 13, 2013

    This is an extremely unfortunate case, one of the highest trust positions over a child's well-being abuse their position. Fact is even more discouraging. Many children who come into care from abusive homes and are placed in the hands of our local DHHS to prayfully find a proper placement whether it be long or short term, due to all of our governmental budget cuts it is these poor children who suffer as well as our field social workers. Our DHHS has been cut so drastically, many are working well over the average working day. Once a child is placed these social workers must pay visits to the child's placement, bio parents, schedule visits between all parties, doctor, therapy and FP training, in hope a child may be reunified a parent. These people should be punished. Govern. needs to find the funds to aid our DHHS workers, so that they are not overworked and will be able to recognize issues within and report it to a State official. My heart is with these children and a fix comes soon.

  • justabumer Dec 13, 2013

    I don't understand the thing with the dead chicken. Does that have some significance? A ritual of some sort?

  • watvr Dec 13, 2013

    I hope these two suffer. at least one is a nurse, the other a dss agent. these poor kids, it is not fair, it is sad, and it is abuse. how can adults do these things to children?

  • liskm Dec 13, 2013

    This is just disgusting at best and should trigger a look see county by county wide that NOTHING like this occurs again.

  • monami Dec 13, 2013

    If you know of an abused or neglected child, and call CPS, THIS is what could happen to the child - placed with an abusive freak.

    So where do you turn when you note abuse? Which is the lesser if the evils?

    We need reform, replacements, audits and accountability.