DURHAM, NC – A Durham-based nonprofit is accusing the county Department of Human Services of acting unfairly and illegally to tear apart a local family.
Emancipate NC held a virtual press conference Monday urging DSS to reunite two young boys, ages 5 and 7, with relatives. The case concerns Toia Potts, who has not seen her two sons for more than three years.
“I feel like they threw my whole family away,” Potts said of DSS.
Potts said she hasn’t seen her children since 2018 and 2019 respectively. Authorities took Potts’ children away from her in 2018 after one of them was abused at home.
Potts and the children’s father were initially charged, but the charges against them were dropped.
“DSS has done so many things that have caused so much damage, so much trauma, so much damage,” Potts said.
Potts and her attorney accept that she cannot regain custody of their children.
During Monday’s press conference, Emancipate NC strategic director and attorney Elizabeth Simpson asked why the Durham County Department of Social Services placed the children with a foster family and not with relatives in Georgia who plan to adopt the two children.
“You deserve to be home,” Potts said of her children. “They deserve to be with people they know.”
Simpson has represented Potts for three years.
Durham County DSS provided WRAL News with the following statement:
“Durham County DSS has consistently acted in accordance with federal and state mandates with respect to its child welfare activities,” the statement said. “Furthermore, the Agency acts in accordance with applicable confidentiality laws.” For this reason, the Agency cannot comment specifically on individual cases.”
“The goal should be family reunification, but that doesn’t happen often in Durham,” Simpson said.
Emancipate NC chief executive and attorney Dawn Blagrove echoed Simpson’s sentiments.
“It’s in the best interests of all children to be surrounded by family whenever possible,” Blagrove said.
Simpson accused DSS of having an agenda. Blagrove accused DSS of operating illegally.
Blagrove said DSS continues to work “in underhanded and illegal ways to keep these children away from the family that loves them.” That’s why we’re here today to shed light on that system.”
Blagrove said the case is a “devastating way the criminal justice system intersects with social services.”
“DSS operates in Durham County in a manner that is overwhelmingly racist toward Black families and Black children,” Blagrove said. “DSS is emerging in a way that works with systemic and institutional racism to keep black families apart.”
The family in Georgia also attended Monday’s press conference.
“They would get all the love they need,” said the children’s great-grandmother, Gussearl Woods.
Felton Woods, the children’s great-grandfather, explained what he would like to see.
“I want to see her grow up and I haven’t been able to,” said Felton Woods.
The children’s grandfather, Felton S. Woods, said he missed several years that he cannot bring back.
“It breaks my heart,” he said.
Simpson says she sent the petitions on Feb. 3 for the out-of-state relatives, but the caseworker never submitted them. She said it was unprecedented and an obstruction of justice.
“This is a major misconduct. It’s illegal,” Simpson said. “It’s an intrusion into the process.”
Simpson attributes the delay in part to sales at Durham DSS. She said the case engaged five different social workers in about three years.
According to state data, 51% of frontline workers at the Durham County DSS changed in 2021. That’s higher than Wake County’s 34% and the state average of 45%.