DSS investigation after NC toddler drowns; mom was on probation for child abuse

23-month-old Rylan Ott in a photo from the Aberdeen Times and an image of Samantha Nacole Bryant from the Moore County Sheriff's Office.

VASS, N.C. (WNCN) — In April 23-month-old Rylan Ott wandered away from his home in Vass and drowned in a pond, just four months after being returned to his mother by the Department of Social Services.

As a result, the Durham County Department of Social Services will investigate what happened in Moore County.

Rylan’s mother, Samantha Bryant, was on probation for child abuse.

The Moore County Social Services Board held a meeting on Wednesday.

Pamela Reed worked on the case as part of the independent Guardian Ad Litem program, which advocates for children.

What happened in little Rylan’s case was so disturbing to the woman who was his guardian she decided to break confidentiality rules to speak publically.

Reed says changes have to be made, because kids’ lives are at stake.

“She (the mother) had also then exhibited these really erratic and very concerning behaviors and red flags,” Reed said.

In December,  Reed told a judge that Bryant was only ready for supervised visits with her son.

But, the Moore County Department of Social Services disagreed.

“CPS is supposed to be the safety net for these kids when they’re brought into this crisis mode. And, they put a toddler back because they didn’t have time to drive him to visits,” Reed said.

Then, one day in April, Rylan wandered away and was found floating in a pond.

Reed told the social services board Wednesday what happened here signifies larger issues with DSS, like high turnover, too many cases for workers to handle and intimidation of employees.

“The supervisors were not supervising properly. They were giving us ridiculous policies,” said Susan Reeve a former DSS Case Worker.

“And when I was told, no, I needed to go to my office and do my notes, that just put me over the edge because it was more like the kids don’t matter. Get your notes in because that’s how the billing happens,” Reeve added.

So, CBS North Carolina asked the Moore County DSS Director about the allegations.

“It will be investigated to see if it’s happening here,” said John Benton, Moore County DSS Director.    “We’re looking into our practices every day,” he added.

Reed said little Rylan’s case highlights several issues within the Moore County DSS. She told the Social Services Board, which authorized the investigation, that there is high turnover at the local DSS, too many cases for workers to handle and intimidation of employees.

“To admit we went to trial placement because we don’t have time to drive the kid back and forth to visits, that is so offensive to me as a guardian ad litem, as a wife, as a mother, as a person,” Reed said.

Katie Dunlap, chair of the Moore County Social Services Board, said the concerns are taken very seriously.

“We will certainly look into the issues that were raised today,” she said.

Board members pledged that the community will know what changes are made due to this case but they admit it’s not clear how because of confidentiality of DSS cases.

But Reed is skeptical.

“I’m concerned about how far that will actually get us as far as really knowing and getting answers,” Reed said.

Moore County DSS currently has 18 case workers handling child welfare cases and is hiring three more, which is how many they’re budgeted for.

The agency will also undergo an audit next month, which was scheduled to happen anyway.


RELATED: Moore Co. officials weigh charges against mother in death of toddler
RELATED: Mom arrested after toddler son drowns in Moore County pond

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