RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — The new Rutherford County Department of Social Services(DSS) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)’ partnership in reviewing Word of Faith child abuse investigations and neglect cases seems to some a stop gap measure against the negative pubilicity. Ever since the Associated Press released their article entitled “Investigators Face Big Hurdles in Church Child Abuse Cases” on Nov. 13, 2017, the RC DSS, John Carroll, and DHHS have been under close scrutiny.
In 2003 WoFF pastor Jane Whaley and several prominent church families sued the Rutherford County Department of Social Services, including director John Carroll individually, asserting their religious beliefs made them a target for child abuse investigations. Their beliefs include blasting or loud prayers that is done with congregants surrounding a church member, even a child, and shrieking for hours to expel demons.
The lawyer for the DSS agency with Carroll’s concurrence settled the lawsuit two years later, agreeing to a list of special conditions on WoFF child abuse investigations. Those conditions include advance notice that according to former members allowed Whaley to coach testimony of both children and parents and to ensure conditions were up to par.
The core issues are whether Carroll had the authority to sign the federal settlement, the reason behind the settlement, why it was settled, and whether or not the settlement had State support. Most importantly though was whether or not the children within Word of Faith Fellowship were protected against abuse.
The Associated Press had reached out to Carroll as shown in the email below.
A January 2005 email regarding the settlement between DHHS counsel and Carroll, however, reveals that the state had serious concerns.
In the Associated Press article, the State noted its disagreement and stated that Carroll’s department did not have the authority to negotiate policy. The AP article states:
Kirk Randleman, acting as counsel to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Resources, wrote that the stipulations could have “far reaching impact” on social service departments throughout the state. He also noted that Carroll’s department didn’t have “authority to negotiate policy decisions, but they are proceeding full steam ahead.”
In a statement to the AP, the state agency said it “disagreed with the stipulation agreement” and did not support Carroll’s decision to sign it.
John Carroll, the child protection agency director, has repeatedly declined to discuss why he settled the lawsuit. But he said it “does not prevent us from fulfilling our statutory obligation to protect children.”
RC Catalyst obtained emails between Carroll, DHHS Michael Becketts, and the Associated Press. In an email obtained by RCCatalyst, the 2017 discussion between John Carroll, director of RC DSS, and Michael Becketts, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services(DHHS) offers two insights:
- The new partnership appears to be instigated by the DHHS as shown in the email below.
- Also, Carroll’s allegations that the Associated Press(AP) story regarding WoFF investigations misled the public are countered with the reporter’s persistent questions in some of the AP-Carroll-DHHS emails.
The details of the new DSS-DHHS agreement for investigation of complaints within Word of Faith Fellowship are outlined in a letter from Michael Becketts, Assistant Secretary for Human Services:
Further from the DHHS emails, Beckett states, “Thanks for your openness and willingness to work with DHHS on this issue.” The implication, contrary to the Carroll press release, is that it is the DHHS making the overture of the partnership. The announced WoFF investigation partnership is a new role for NCDHHS in that normally it is only responsible for oversight in connection to local DSS’ in terms of scheduled monitoring, training, and technical assistance. The exception is an indicator of the priority of the continuing allegations of child abuse within Word of Faith Fellowship. Unfortunately it may be another layer of protocol that delays authentic investigations.
Rutherford County DSS John Carroll’s press release was published in its entirety last week. The ongoing scrutiny by the Associated Press (AP) article and 7 News-WSPA continued with DHHS, the director of Rutherford County DSS, John Carroll, and the Rutherford County DSS Board regarding abuse complaints from former members. The 7 News television story ran on Dec. 1, 2017. Some of the complaints against DSS for lack of protection came from the children, now adults, named in the original DSS and Word of Faith Fellowship lawsuit.
Countering the news releases director Carroll has stated in local media sources that:
“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.”
However, several ex-members of Word of Faith Fellowship are claiming this latest press release and statements is just a ruse to cover up the years of abuse they lived with within the church. Many WoFF ex-members are calling for a judicial review by N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and the removal of John Carroll as the executive director.
Carroll also reveals concern on the State’s response to the Associated Press and asks to see the state’s response.
Rutherford County DSS stated in a press release that they believe this joint endeavor will ensure the safety and well-being of children in Rutherford County. However, many of the children over the last 12 years since the 2005 agreement have said they have not been protected by DSS and have asked N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein to review that settlement.
The RC DSS Board meets on the third Wednesday of this month.