Local News

State to review DSS' contact with slain girl's family

Posted November 23, 2009 5:01 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2009 6:55 p.m. EST

Shaniya Nicole Davis

— A state team of experts will examine any contact the Cumberland County Department of Social Services had with the family of a 5-year-old Fayetteville girl who was killed and whose mother has been accused of prostituting her.

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."

DSS looked at Davis with regard to her 7-year-old son, not Shaniya, according to her uncle, Michael Davis. The case was closed, and Antoinette Davis was able to retain custody of the boy, her uncle said.

DSS Director Brenda Jackson has declined to comment on the agency's involvement with the Davis family, citing the criminal investigation into Shaniya's death as well as confidentiality rules for child protective services cases.

The state plans to appoint a review team to investigate any DSS contact with the Davis family, and the team's findings will be turned over to the state Child Fatality Task Force. The task force studies all child deaths in North Carolina to make recommendations to legislators on changes to state laws and administrative polices to prevent future deaths.

"You just say, 'How in the world did this happen?' and 'How could it have gotten to this end place?' and 'We need to do better,'" said Tom Vitaglione, co-chairman of the task force.

Fifty-eight children in the state were homicide victims in 2008, according to advocacy group Action for Children North Carolina.

Rob Thompson, executive director of another advocacy group, The Covenant With North Carolina's Children, said giving the public more information about tragedies like Shaniya's death could help prevent similar incidents.

"I think just having a better picture of what happened would allow us to see all of things that may have had a role in this horrible situation," Thompson said. "In cases where you're not jeopardizing the privacy of a victim, I think it is more appropriate to be as transparent as possible."

Vitaglione said Cumberland County DSS workers "are devastated" by Shaniya's death, and the fact that child protective services is overburdened and underfunded in the state doesn't ease their distress.

DSS agencies are federally mandated and funded but are run by individual counties and overseen by the state.

"In some ways, it's an impossible task that we've asked them to do," he said.

Last year, DSS agencies received 127,192 reports of child abuse and neglect statewide, and workers were able to substantiate abuse or neglect in less than 10 percent of the reports, according to Action for Children.

"I think the most important thing is that we really try and reduce that caseload both through proper training, proper oversight and proper supervision (as well as through) proper funding," Thompson said.