Social workers in North Carolina have gained easy access to criminal records on people they investigate in child abuse or neglect cases, says the Charlotte Observer. The first to benefit from a new agreement between state courts and social services officials will be 125 trained social workers. Child welfare social workers now have authority to conduct statewide criminal records checks through the database of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). Officials hope to train 2,000 social workers around the state by July. Sherry Bradsher of the N.C. Division of Social Services said the arrangement will help fix what some call a fatal flaw in the state’s child welfare system.
In a five-part series published in August, The Observer studied 92 suspected child abuse or neglect fatalities over five years and found that in at least eight deaths, reviewers cited poor access to criminal records as a hindrance to the investigation.
The new system gives social workers 24-hour computer access to the database, independently of the courthouses. It will cost about $200,000. Social workers still don’t have quick access to criminal records from other states. An official of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation said a state law must be passed before child welfare workers could get access to those records.