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Nash County Social Services employee terminated after state finds child welfare violations before 8-year-old girl's beating death

The Nash County Department of Social Services is required to develop and complete a corrective action plan after 8-year-old Christal Lane died in February.

Posted Updated

Lena Tillett
, WRAL anchor/reporter; Keenan Willard, WRAL eastern North Carolina reporter

A Nash County Department of Social Services employee was terminated after the state found several violations in the department’s handling of child abuse allegations of an 8-year-old girl beaten to death.

In a letter to Nash DSS, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ (NCDDS) Division of Social Services said it became aware of a child fatality on Feb. 7, which is the same day Christal Lane died at the age of 8. The letter, reviewed by WRAL News, outlined allegations the county violated policies in its responsibility to protect Lane.

The girl’s grandmother, Patricia Ann Ricks, 72, is charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse in connection with Lane’s death.

The state found several policy violations, including:

  • Collateral contacts were not contacted according to policy.
  • Supervision was not conducted according to policy.
  • Prior Child Protective Services (CPS) history from South Carolina was not obtained.
  • While interviews with children and adults are well documented, there is insufficient follow-up to verify the information.
  • Child medical exams were completed, however, there is insufficient follow-up with the concerns expressed by the examiner.
  • Additional information regarding the actions of the grandmother and additional injuries found on the child were not taken as new reports.

On Friday, a NCDHHS spokesperson said the department didn’t have anyone available to comment about the matter.

Records show that Lane went to school so badly beaten in December 2022 that authorities at Coopers Elementary School reported it to DSS, but she and four siblings remained in the custody of Ricks.

Lane died months later of severe blunt force trauma to her head and body. Investigators with the Nash County Sheriff’s Office said they found multiple items that were used as weapons in the fatal beating.

The state is requiring the Nash County DSS to develop a corrective action plan within 30 days of Friday’s letter. Also, the state plans to review the county’s proposed plan and provide feedback within 10 business days of receiving it.

The county’s corrective plan must include:

  1. A plan to provide all staff with ongoing supervisory oversight at least every other week and for high-risk cases weekly.
  2. A plan to ensure all staff remain current in narrative within seven days of event as per policy and that narrative accurately reflects the activities of the case.
  3. All social workers, supervisors and program managers participate in the mandatory back-to-basics trainings that are focused on safety and risk and appropriate use of structured decision-making tools. They will further demonstrate the ability to assess safety and risk.
  4. All social workers, supervisors and program managers participate in the mandatory practice standards trainings. Social work supervisors and program managers will utilize the associated self-assessment tools.
  5. CPS social workers, supervisors and program managers participate in technical assistance training on conducting thorough assessments.
  6. Social work supervisors and managers participate in coaching to develop strategies for providing ongoing, effective supervisory oversight.
  7. Ensure staff participate in training identified to address areas of needed improvement in NCSWLearn.org

The county will have a regional child welfare consultant to help develop its corrective action plan. The consultant is also expected to help in identifying and developing the resources to complete the plan.

The state asked the county to provide monthly updates to the regional consultant. Also, the state is expected to provide the county with a site visit schedule. Then, the state will review progress toward implementing the corrective action plan.

Also, the state acknowledged that Nash County DSS already took several steps, including:

  • Social workers will call from the field, at initiation, to (make a) safety plan with a supervisor and a program manager or deputy director.
  • Implemented a new supervision conference tool to ensure that safety and risk are assessed at all case staffing and that ongoing contacts are conducted according to policy.
  • Supervisors have begun conducting documentation verification during supervision.
  • Onboarded with the Regional Abuse Medical Specialists (RAMS) to provide guidance on serious injury cases for ages birth to 3 years of age.
  • Scheduled training with the RAMS on conducting interviews and developing timelines for serious injury cases.
  • The program manager or deputy director will review all safety plans and case decisions via participation in case staffing.
  • A request has been made to contract with Speak Write to ensure the timely entry of documentation.

Failure by Nash County DSS to comply with the NCDDS notice could result in the state withholding funding to the county's social services department, according to state law.

In early March, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also completed a review of 23 Nash County CPS cases.

The review revealed similar concerns as the case involving Lane and Ricks.

  • Supervisory oversight was conducted according to policy in 39% of the cases.
  • Ongoing contacts after initiation were made with the children according to policy in 48% of the cases.
  • Ongoing contacts with the parents were made according to policy in 50% of the cases.
  • Safety Assessments correlated with the information obtained from the interviews and addressed the identified safety concerns in 65% of the cases.
  • Case decisions were appropriate and supported by documentation in 67% of the cases.
  • Documentation did not reflect discussions of ongoing safety and risk.


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