Union County fired Wanda Larson on Friday, accusing the former supervisor with the Department of Social Services of “unacceptable personal conduct and grossly inefficient job performance.”
Larson, who headed a group of child-protection investigators for the agency, faces child abuse and other charges after an 11-year-old boy under her legal care was found chained to the porch of her rural home, a dead chicken tied around his neck.
In a blistering letter informing Larson of her firing, Richard Matens, the county’s human services director, accused the 10-year DSS employee of violating the public trust and ignoring her responsibilities to protect children – her own.
“The conditions uncovered in your own home, for your adoptive children and the child for whom you have guardianship, are appalling,” Matens wrote.
“You have a responsibility in your official capacity to ensure that children are not subjected to such conditions, and you would have had a duty to initiate a report and investigation had you observed children in such conditions in another home.
“The negligence you have shown in this situation has detrimentally affected the trust and confidence placed in you as a social work supervisor by this agency. Your actions represent a blatant disregard for the ethical conduct and sound judgment vital to your position.”
Lawson was not at her Monroe farmhouse at the time. But her longtime partner, Dorian Harper, was arrested, and five children placed under government care. Sheriff Eddie Cathey described the living conditions as “terrible.”
Lawson had adopted four of the seized children, ages 7 to 14. She and Harper had been appointed as legal guardians of the 11-year-old bound to the porch. Investigators said it appeared the boy also had been “routinely” handcuffed inside the house.
More than 100 animals, including numerous dogs, chickens, donkeys, llamas and a peacock were also seized.
Larson joined the agency in 2003 and was promoted to her supervisory job in 2009. She earned more than $54,000 a year but had been suspended without pay since her Nov. 15 arrest. She had been suspended for disciplinary reasons in May 2012, but no details have been released.
Harper, an emergency room nurse with a Monroe hospital, was placed on administrative leave after his arrest.
Union County deputies talked Thursday with the five children removed from the couple’s home, said Cathey, who would not disclose what they said. He had said previously that investigators hoped to learn, among other details, just how long the boy had been handcuffed in mid-20 degree weather.
The boy’s biological mother said Larson had told her that her son was disruptive, destroyed property and had killed several animals. The mother, who had not seen her son since the first of the year, said she had never witnessed that kind of behavior from him.
The children are under the care of the Davidson County DSS in Lexington, according to Lindsay Caffey, a social worker with the agency. She declined further comment.
Harper and Larson became licensed foster parents in 1998. They bought their 5-acre farm a year later, and finalized the first of their six adoptions in 2000. Family members say they also cared for numerous foster children who eventually were returned to their parents or put under someone else’s care. Larson opened a home school in April 2012.
Michael Harper-Larson, at 27 the oldest of their adoptive kids, described his parents as loving and strict.
The couple remained in the Union County Jail on Friday on separate $500,000 bonds. They face Jan. 7 court dates.
Union County has requested help from the state and from Davidson County in reviewing how it handled the incident. The state also is examining the operation of Union County’s adoption, foster care and child-protection programs.