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State Now Investigating Death Of Adopted Johnston County Boy

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The State Division of Social Services is now investigating the death of a 4-year-old Johnston County boy who was suffocated after his adoptive mother allegedly tied him tightly in blankets.

Because Johnston County social workers had visited the home of Sean Paddock's adoptive parents, Johnny and Lynn Paddock, less than a year prior to his death last month, the state is looking at how social services and other agencies handled the case and whether Sean's death could have been prevented.

"We want to learn lessons from every fatality," said Jo Ann Lamm, who oversees the State Fatality Review Team, which is reviewing how allegations of abuse were handled prior to Sean's death.

In early 2005, seven months before the Paddocks adopted Sean and his two siblings, a social worker with the Johnston County Department of Social Services visited the Paddocks' home in Brogdon on behalf of the Wake County Department of Social Services. Wake County DSS, which was handling the adoption, had received a report of alleged abuse during a pre-adoption visit Sean had with the Paddocks.

Wake County DSS relied on Johnston County DSS's investigation, which was never able to substantiate the abuse.

"Our job was to interview the family and report back to Wake County what they told us," said Earl Marett, Director of Johnston County Social Services, last month, adding that cross-county investigations are common.

The Fatality Review Team, however, is looking to improve such investigations. In its annual reports for the last two years, the team determined that cross-county investigations continue to be a "barrier," and suggested joint visits instead.

"So, even prior to this tragic event, we were already revising and relooking at our policies," Lamm said.

Wake County social workers and the agency handling Sean's adoption did visit the Paddock home to observe Sean and his two siblings after the allegations surfaced. But determining if those investigators should have had more firsthand knowledge is something the review team will consider.

"What I can tell you is that the director and the county departments of social services are always committed to trying to figure out how we can enhance what we're doing," Lamm said.

The review, which will be public record, takes about six months. The state created this intensive process following three deaths in Rowan County in 1998. The team is charged with looking at anyone involved in the child's life. One big hurdle is getting citizens to report abuse.

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