RUTHERFORD Co., NC (WSPA) -- Rutherford County Department of Social Services and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services have announced a new partnership in reviewing child abuse and neglect cases connected to Word of Faith Fellowship.
A settlement between Word of Faith and Rutherford County DSS in 2005 from a federal lawsuit, has recently become scrutinized. The settlement closed and expunged records of 20 pending cases on children within the Western North Carolina church. The settlement also laid out stipulations for future cases. Those stipulations included giving Word of Faith Fellowship the right to record any interviews Rutherford County DSS had with children, it also to some extent protected a religious ritual inside the church known as blasting. Blastings are prayers within the church that include large amounts of screaming or shrieking and sometimes physical abuse, according to former members. Word of Faith Fellowship has repeatedly denied any abuse claims within the church.
To read the full settlement, click here: Rutherford Co. DSS Settlement
This new partnership will be an additional level of support by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. A secondary review process will be put in place for any child abuse and neglect cases that would be subject to this settlement agreement.
This announcement comes just days after 7 News approached DHHS, the director of Rutherford County DSS, John Carroll, and the Rutherford County DSS Board regarding abuse complaints from former members, some of whose cases were expunged due to this settlement. Previously NCDHHS is only responsible for oversight in connection to local DSS' in terms of scheduled monitoring, training, and technical assistance.
Director Carroll released this statement to 7 News last week. "NC General Statues strictly prohibits DSS from discussing specific child protective services cases. To that end, we cannot discuss how the specific procedures or protocols in the settle agreement with Word of Faith Fellowship have been applied, if ever. At the time the agreement was reached, it 1) was consistent with state policy; 2) protected the children of Rutherford County; and 3) enabled Rutherford County DSS to fulfill its statutory obligations to protect children, and this remains true today. Assistant Attorney General, Kirk Randleman, participated in mediation with the department, and reviewed the procedure included in the agreement. The entire settlement was approved by a United States District Court Judge on June 21, 2005. Any assertion that our department does not follow NC Laws and NC DHHS policies governing child abuse and neglect investigations regarding all reports, and in all cases, is not accurate. "
DHHS released the following statement to 7 News on Wednesday, "The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services takes our responsibility to oversee the state's child welfare system very seriously. North Carolina's children who are at risk of abuse and neglect deserve a capable child welfare system that provides effective services to ensure their safety and well-being. We are always working to improve the system and continue to work closely with all county Departments of Social Services, including RCDSS, to ensure that processes, procedures and staff prioritize the protection and safety of our state's children."
Rutherford County DSS stated in a release, that they believe this joint endeavor will ensure the safety and well-being of children in Rutherford County.