Moore County DSS head abruptly resigns

Rylan Ott, the toddler who drowned (Photo: Aberdeen Times)

CARTHAGE, N.C. (WNCN) — The director of the Moore County Department of Social Services has resigned.

The news came Thursday, at a meeting scheduled to allow the county’s DSS board to meet behind closed doors to discuss the results of an investigation into the drowning death of a toddler last April.

John L. Benton, who has led the department for about a decade, will resign, according to an agreement released Thursday. Laura Cockman, one of the investigators, will serve as interim director. Benton will get six months’ pay as part of the agreement.

In a statement, the board and the director said the decision was amicable.

RELATED: Moore County DSS discusses independent investigation into toddler drowning

A panel of three investigators reviewing the department’s handling of the toddler’s case said there were “significant failures and omissions occurring at critical decision points.”

Large caseloads and staff vacancies contributed to the problem, the investigators said.

On Thursday, officials released Benton’s severance agreement and a heavily-redacted report compiled by the investigators.

While much of the investigators’ report is redacted — for example, the page labeled “Investigative Panel Findings” has had all of the content except “General Comments about findings” redacted — it does reveal that Moore County DSS staff members had caseloads three times the state standards at the time of the case in question.

The toddler, Rylan Ott, wandered away from the home of his mother, Samantha Bryant, and drowned in a pond. The boy had recently been returned to her care of the objections of his volunteer guardian ad litem and foster parents.

“I don’t take pleasure in someone losing their position or leaving their job, but it’s really not about Director Benton,” said Pam Reed, the boy’s guardian ad litem. “It’s about an organization that was OK putting a toddler back because they felt they didn’t have time to drive him to visits.”

The panel recommended hiring more staff and reviewing records more frequently.

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