Rouse v. Forsyth County DSS, 262 N.C. App. 262 (2018), rev'd 373 N.C. 400 (2020)

Affirmed in Part
Vacated in Part
Petitioner's motion for PDR allowed May 10, 2019
  • This is an employment case involving the discharge of a Senior Social Worker in the Family and Children’s Division After Hours Unit at Forsyth County DSS. One of the issues addressed in this opinion discusses mandated reporting under G.S. 7B-301.
  • Facts: The social worker provided “supportive counseling” (a Forysth County DSS policy that supplemented the state’s screen in and screen out policy regarding a report of abuse, neglect, or dependency) to a homeless father and son to assist the father in finding temporary housing for his 12-year-old son. In providing “supportive counseling,” the social worker spoke with the son’s mother to see if the son could stay with her. During that conversation, the mother gave various reasons why the son could not stay with her, one of which she blurted out “he [the son] molested my daughters.” The social worker asked follow up questions of the mother who immediately recanted. The social worker also questioned the father and son both of whom denied the recanted allegation. Ultimately, the mother agreed to allow the son to stay with her starting the next night. The social worker did not document the allegation or treat it as a report of abuse but instead documented her provision of supportive counseling and the efforts made on behalf of the father and son. Weeks later, Forsyth County DSS was contacted by another county DSS about the same family and an allegation of child-on-child sexual misconduct. Afterwards, the social worker was discharged from her employment, which she successfully appealed before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Forsyth County DSS appealed the ALJ decision, arguing in part that the social worker’s failure to generate a CPS report under G.S. 7B-301(a) after interviewing the father, son, and mother was grossly inefficient job performance constituting just cause for dismissal.
  • Discussion of reporting requirements: Evidence (specifically the social worker’s testimony) supported the finding of fact that the social worker treated the meeting with the family as a “general inquiry” about foster care since no party made a report and she had no independent cause to suspect abuse of child. Sl. Op. at 15. A violation of G.S. 7B-301, which requires a report by a person who has cause to suspect a child is abused, neglect, or dependent, was not established by the greater weight of the evidence. “Cause to suspect” has not been defined by the courts; however, “the standard is not just a suspicion.… a person deciding whether to make a report also must consider a child’s statements, appearances, or behavior (or other objective indicators) in light of the context; the person’s experience; and other available information.” Sl. Op. at 18-19 quoting Janet Mason, Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect in North Carolina 67 (3rd ed. 2013). The social worker testified that based on the context of the statements, her experience, and her observation and interaction with the son, she had no cause to suspect abuse. Respondent failed to prove the social worker had cause to suspect and knowingly failed to make a report in violation of G.S. 7B-301. The social worker performed her job requirements regarding the “supporting counseling” practice utilized by Forsyth County DSS.
Civil Cases with Application to Child Welfare
Mandated Reporting
Cause to suspect
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