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Grand Forks social services leader denies misconduct in child protective services

The leader of the Grand Forks County social services office has rejected claims that the local Child Protective Services office mishandled cases of possible child abuse or neglect.

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The Grand Forks County Office Building, photographed on November 23, 2015, houses many essential departments and offices for services crucial to the well-being of both Grand Forks, ND as well as the surrounding community.Photo by Nick Nelson for the Grand Forks Herald.
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The leader of the Grand Forks County social services office has rejected claims that the local Child Protective Services office mishandled cases of possible child abuse or neglect.

Over the past summer, allegations of misconduct surfaced in local media reports after an unnamed whistleblower revealed that the local CPS office had seen 11 employees quit or transfer since spring 2016, a high rate of turnover relative to other CPS offices in North Dakota. That same source also alleged that workers in the Grand Forks office had been asked by their manager to destroy official documents outlining reports of abuse or neglect, a common form known as an SFN 960 Report. The source tied both the turnover and the reports to a common source-county CPS supervisor Tamara Boling.

A request for comment at the office was directed to Scot Hoeper, director of the office of Grand Forks County social services and a former member of the state Child Protection Task Force. As part of his current post, Hoeper oversees work at the local CPS office. He had a quick answer to the broad scope of the claims made against the Grand Forks department.

"Children are not falling through the cracks, as is alleged," he said last week.

Though he declined to comment on Boling, saying he wouldn't discuss individual personnel issues, Hoeper did confirm the reported turnover number of 11 employees over the past approximately 18 months. That rate of turnover "has not been the trend for this office" in the past, he said, and has been on the radar of both himself and human resources staff.

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Hoeper came into his own position in March 2016, some months after Boling was promoted to manager in October 2015. When discussing the rise in turnovers, Hoeper described Boling as a new supervisor in a transitional period that required some smoothing out after he assumed his own leadership role.

"She had replaced someone with 20 years of experience, she came through the ranks of her peers," he said, referring to former county CPS leader Shari Fiedler. "With that, with new leadership, there were some growing pains and adjusting to some new management styles and operating styles and communication styles. When I came on board, certainly some of that was brought to my attention, how things were being looked at and managed."

Hoeper said he worked with his human relations staff to "try and resolve some situations" and "make things right" in solidifying new management in CPS. He said his plan to do that has involved some training offerings and team building exercises in the office. He didn't identify any specific issues in the transition but described the situation as a general managerial shift that comes with new leadership. He declined to characterize Boling's management style.

Regardless, Hoeper felt the department has "turned the page" and resolved whatever issues it had. The office is now fully staffed with eight employees, including supervisor Boling.

Even amid the jostling turnover, Hoeper denied the claim that 960 reports had been mishandled or destroyed by CPS staff. Those reports are filed by CPS in response to possible incidents of child abuse or neglect. Once filed in the respective county office, the reports are also held in the regional CPS office and can be accessible as a hard or digital copy.

Hoeper said he had one instance in which he looked into a rumored instance where Boling might have "suggested" that an employee should shred a 960 report. He says the information came second-hand, not from the employee in question, and his inquiries left him confident that the form had not been destroyed. He said Boling denied ever making that suggestion and questioned why an employee wouldn't come to him directly if he or she had a report to share.

"If someone has that information, why didn't they come to me? Or why didn't they go to human resources, or the regional office or the state administrator?" Hoeper asked.

Leaders at the higher levels of CPS command also said they hadn't heard of any order to destroy a 960 report in Grand Forks. Lisa Piche, the regional director who oversees Grand Forks County, said she had received no procedural complaints about or from the county office. Marlys Baker, state CPS administrator, said the same. Though personnel issues are strictly handled within the county offices, Baker emphasized that the actual functions of CPS are subject to a number of partnerships with entities beyond the hierarchy of her office. As such, she said they're held to checks and balances outside of CPS control.

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"This isn't work that can be done in isolation," she said, pointing to the role of the court system and of local law enforcement.

Back in Grand Forks, Hoeper believes the allegations against the local CPS office are partially a result of the department's role in the social fabric.

"We're always in an adversarial role," he says, citing instances where children are removed from family homes. "We're not an agency that's welcomed with open arms."

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS COUNTY
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