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'Like they threw my whole family away': Durham mom questions why county won't let her kids stay with family in Georgia

Toia Potts said she has not seen her two boys for more than three years. She's advocating for the Durham County Department of Social Services to put her kids in the custody of relatives in Georgia.

Posted Updated

Sarah Krueger
, WRAL Durham reporter
DURHAM, N.C. — A nonprofit organization based in Durham is accusing the county’s Department of Social Services of acting unfairly and illegally to tear a local family apart.

Emancipate NC held a virtual news conference Monday urging DSS to reunite two young boys – ages 5 and 7 – with relatives. The case involves Toia Potts, who has not seen her two boys for more than three years.

“I feel like they threw my whole family away,” Potts said of DSS.

Potts said she hasn’t seen her kids since 2018 and 2019, respectively. Authorities took Potts' kids from her in 2018 after one of them was abused in the home.

Potts and the children's father were initially charged, but charges against her were dropped.

“DSS has done so many things that have caused so much harm and so much trauma and so much damage,” Potts said.

Potts and her attorney accept she will not be able to regain custody of her children.

During Monday's news conference, Emancipate NC strategic director and attorney Elizabeth Simpson questions why the Durham County Department of Social Services placed the kids with a foster family rather than with relatives in Georgia, who want to adopt the two children.

“They deserve to be at home,” Potts said of her children. “They deserve to be with people that they know.”

Simpson has represented Potts for the past three years.

Durham County DSS provided WRAL News with the following statement:

“Durham County DSS has acted consistently in accordance with federal and state mandates with respect to its actions in child welfare cases," the statement reads. "Further, the Agency acts in accordance with applicable confidentiality laws. For that reason, the Agency cannot make specific comments regarding cases.”"

Simpson said federal law dictates that blood relatives should get priority.

"Family reunification is supposed to be the goal, but that doesn't happen often in Durham,” Simpson said.

Emancipate NC executive director and attorney Dawn Blagrove echoed Simpson’s sentiment.

“It is in the best interest of all children to be surrounded by family, whenever possible,” Blagrove said.

Simpson accused DSS of having an agenda. Blagrove accused DSS of operating illegally.

Blagrove said DSS continues to work, “in devious and illegal ways to keep these children separated from the family that loves them. That is why we're here today, to shed light on this system.”

Blagrove said the case is a “devastating way that the criminal justice system intersects with social services.”

“DSS shows up in Durham County in a way that is overwhelmingly racist against Black families and Black children,” Blagrove said. “DSS shows up in a way that colludes with systemic and institutional racism to keep Black families apart.”

The family in Georgia also joined Monday’s news conference.

"All the love they need, they would get it,” said the kids’ great-grandmother Gussearl Woods.

Felton Woods, the great-grandfather of the kids, explained what he’d like to see happen.

“I want to see them grow up, and I haven’t been able to do that,” Felton Woods said.

The kids’ grandfather, Felton S. Woods, said he’s missed several years that he can’t get back.

“It’s breaking my heart,” he said.

Simpson says she sent the petitions on Feb. 3 for the out-of-state relatives, but the clerk never filed them. She said it was unprecedented and an obstruction of justice.

“That is great malfeasance. It is illegal,” Simpson said. “It is interference with the process.”

Simpson blames the delay, in part, to the turnover at Durham DSS. She said the case has had five different social workers in roughly three years.

In 2021, 51% of frontline employees within Durham County DSS turned over, according to state data. It's a higher figure than Wake County's 34% and the state average of 45%.

Potts’ supporters have started an online petition urging action in the case to try to reunite the kids with their family.


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