CANTON — Nearly a dozen people took to the rostrum at the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators meeting Monday night to strongly criticize the county’s Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services.
“My question is, when are you going to address the wrongdoing and seek accountability?” asked Francine Griffin, to the board.
“There seems to be an attempt to sweep this under the rug,” she said.
Another speaker, Watertown resident Erica Porter, said “The grievous abuse of power by St. Lawrence County DSS has completely ripped our family apart.”
“I kindly ask [the board] to look into the allegations of misconduct in St. Lawrence County, as this misconduct is not only affecting residents of your county,” she said.
“DSS and CPS are supposed to protect the children, but DSS is causing more trauma to the very children they have sworn to protect,” she said.
“I ask that you don’t let it continue for one more day.”
Former military police officer and combat veteran, Dalton Morehouse, spoke on how his ex, the mother of his two eldest children, was afforded “special privileges” as an employee of DSS despite allegedly striking his daughter in the face while throwing her out of the house.
“This is not only a conflict of interest,” he said, “but a putrid stain on the face of this county.”
“The children in need of this county are paying a very heavy price due to the incompetence and lack of integrity within the SLC DSS ... and it is this legislative body’s duty to do something about it,” he said.
One woman, Tricia Snyder, who works in CPS, defended against attacks on the department by reading a narrative written by a CPS worker in Illinois.
“I am CPS. I am the worker for children who are being hurt and neglected every day ... I am the worker walking into homes of people who are high, drunk, mentally ill, and violent. I have nothing but pen and paper to protect me.”
“I am the worker you demonize all over social media,” she read.
Her statement was met with sneers from the audience.
Courtney A. Fantone, founder and director of Community Helping Individuals Living in Distress — otherwise known as CHILD, an advocacy organization that reviews DSS foster care cases — said, “I hold in my hand a pile of personnel complaints against St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, but these are just a small portion of the calls that I’ve received, which now numbers high into the hundreds.”
“There is corruption in our DSS, and I’m hoping that this will help solve that.”
“This is not about politics. This is not about choosing sides. This is about us as human beings coming together and saying, ‘How can we do better?’”
Many of the complaints Monday night came in response to the 10-year-old girl who, it was recently discovered, died in Massena last year of malnutrition, despite being part of an open DSS investigation. At the time of her death, the family of the deceased was being investigated by Child Protective Services for educational neglect.
At the meeting, the board unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the efforts underway to implement systemic change in children’s services in the Department of Social Services.
Since March 2021, according to the resolution, 20 new positions in children’s services were created “to ensure that there would be a decrease in cases per caseworker to allow for additional training and closer oversight of cases.”
The resolution also called for an independent external review by a consultant to “bring observations and recommendations for the County to continue investment in systemic change in Children’s services.”
“Contrary to what some popular opinion is, the resolutions speak to what the board has accomplished and is trying to accomplish,” said Legislator Larry D. Denesha, R-Dekalb.