County investigates after arrest of DSS worker

MONROE – Union County officials and the county’s sheriff’s office are investigating after an arrest last week that could have a far-reaching impact on the county’s Department of Social Services.

Wanda Sue Larson, who worked with the department in the field of child protective services, was arrested Friday, Nov. 15, and charged with child abuse, false imprisonment and cruelty to animals after a boy was found handcuffed on the porch of her Austin Road home near Monroe with a dead chicken around his neck, according to law enforcement officials. She is now in the Union County jail under a $520,000 bond, and another person, Dorian Harper, is under a $500,000 bond for his alleged involvement in the incident. The five children who lived at the home, all foster children, are now in the custody of another county’s social services department, according to the Union County Department of Human Services. The county said the children were not placed at the home during Larson’s tenure with the county. The Union County Board of Commissioners honored Larson in March for having served the county for 10 years.

What this means for the county’s social services department and any child protective cases Larson managed in her time is yet to be seen. The county has asked the North Carolina Division of Social Services to conduct an
independent investigation into the issue, as well as into the procedures related to child protective services, adoptions and foster care at the Union County Department of Social Services.

“Union County officials wish to reassure the public that the county is working with law enforcement officials and the state, with the view that those responsible for this incident will be held accountable, and that such an event cannot and will not ever be repeated in our community,” read a news release.

Deputies returned to the home after the arrests and arranged homes for the animals that live on the property – which includes an estimated 75 fowl, three horses, three donkeys, two llamas, eight dogs, a cat and a hog, according to a sheriff’s office news release.

While the state investigates the county’s procedures, the sheriff’s office will investigate an incident that has people across the region demanding answers about how a county official charged with ensuring children’s safety could have committed the crimes she’s accused of, if this was a one-time incident or long-occurring trend and what procedures were in place to investigate a person’s background before giving them the responsibility of protecting the county’s children.

“It is both our obligation and our responsibility to determine how something like this could happen,” Sheriff Eddie Cathey said in a news release. “The safety and well-being of the children involved is paramount in this case, and the (sheriff’s office) will conduct a complete and thorough investigation to secure justice for them.”

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