N.C. DHHS not bound by WoFF and RC DSS Settlement; DHHS committed to investigate child abuse

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Michael Becketts, the Assistant Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) met with activist John Huddle to answer emailed questions asking for a Judicial Review of the Compromised Settlement (Settlement) filed June 21, 2005 in the civil lawsuit between Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) and the Rutherford County Department of Social Services (RCDSS). Also named as defendants in that lawsuit were DSS director John Carroll individually and two social workers individually. Huddle also asked that Director John Carroll be replaced.

John Huddle on the portico of RC Courthouse. In background, attorney Mark Morris assisted Jane Whaley into the SUV.

At  a face-to-face meeting Monday, Julie Cronin, the Assistant General Counsel for the NC DHHS, and Becketts met with Huddle. Huddle shared his history inside and out of the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF) and  his concerns that RC DSS employees at the time of the settlement did not understand the special language and meaning of a “closed religious subculture.” In fact, in 3 separate testimonies at the Brooke Covington/WoFF/Matthew Fenner trial, each witness described being coached on how to answer investigators’ questions. Allegations at that trial were made that not only did WoFF leadership coach them, but also a Cleveland County social worker and two or more attorneys (some working at another district attorney’s office) aided them.

During the meeting with Huddle, Mr. Becketts explained how his office and the RC DSS would address complaints of abuse involving WOFF.  As stated in a letter dated November 16th sent to DSS’ John Carroll, new procedures were put in place for reports of potential abuse within WoFF.

Screened-in reports, those that fall under the Settlement, and are cleared for further investigation by RC DSS.

“NC DHHS will be notified within one business day of a screen-in report and provided a copy of the completed DSS-5010 form. This is a 14-page form outlining observations of the child and actions taken based on observations and interviews,” said Huddle.

Screened-out reports will be forwarded the same business day to the NC DHHS Deputy Division Director of Child Welfare Services. Screened-out reports may contain accusations surrounding “blasting prayer” or “isolation”  discipline. Blasting prayer investigations are specifically noted in the Settlement to be excluded.

Becketts characterized the Settlement as “narrow” and “highly unusual.” A future situation with a “screened-out” report may be referred to an adjoining county by NC DHHS for follow-up and/or investigation. The NC DHHS is not bound by the Settlement. Any adjoining County DSS could serve as DHHS’ agent and also be free of the limitations of the Settlement.

Becketts stated he and his department were committed to helping children who suffer abuse or neglect.