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 boys, ages 5 and 7, with relatives. The case is about Toia Potts, who hasn’t seen her two boys 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 molested 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.
“They deserve to be home,” Potts said of her children. “They deserve to be with people they know.”
Simpson has represented Potts for the past 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 actions in child welfare matters,” the statement said. “In addition, the agency acts in accordance with applicable confidentiality laws. For this reason, the agency cannot provide specific comments on cases.”
“Family reunification is supposed to be the goal, but that doesn’t happen often in Durham,” Simpson said.
Emancipate NC executive director and attorney Dawn Blagrove echoed Simpson’s view.
“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 to “underhandedly and illegally separate these children from the family that loves them. That is why we are here today to shed light on this system.”
Blagrove said the case was a “devastating way the criminal justice system intersects with social services.”
“DSS manifests itself in an overwhelmingly racist manner toward Black families and Black children in Durham County,” Blagrove said. “DSS is emerging in a way that works with systemic and institutional racism to keep black families apart.”
The Georgia family also attended Monday’s press conference.
“All the love they need they would get,” 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 couldn’t,” said Felton Woods.
The children’s grandfather, Felton S. Woods, said he missed several years that he could not get back.
“It breaks my heart,” he said.
Simpson says she sent the petitions on Feb. 3 for the out-of-state relatives, but the clerk 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 intervention in the process.”
Simpson partially blames sales at Durham DSS for the delay. She said the case had five different social workers in about three years.
In 2021, 51% of frontline workers at Durham County DSS transitioned, according to state data. This is higher than Wake County’s 34% and the state average of 45%.