DSS complaints continue to be directed at St. Lawrence County legislators
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
CANTON – St. Lawrence County legislators faced harsh criticism Monday for ongoing concerns regarding allegations made about the county’s social and child protection services.
It’s been a continued trend over the past few months as complaints against the department mount. Meanwhile the county officials and employees have shared concerns about their inability to respond to the public criticism.Some legislators had hoped to mount a public defense of the department and its employees, however the county has remained largely quiet on the issue.
Speaking at the meeting were William Roome, Francine Griffin, Rachel Raven, Mary Skelly and Tammy Vinch, most of whom have shared concerns at prior meetings
Skelly again shared the story of her daughter who she said was kidnapped and trafficked leaving her permanently changed.
Roome again raised concerns about alleged abuse involving a former educator and current coach at Madrid-Waddington School. He extended his grievances to include alleged mistreatment by various law enforcement agencies as well.
Raven and Griffin raised concerns about the county’s handling of allegations of misconduct that have been pouring in since June.
Raven, who is now a representative of Communities Helping Individuals in Distress, shared a letter submitted to news organizations written by Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly calling for a criminal investigation into the complaints made against DSS and CPS.
CHILD has stated plans to submit more than 50 complaints with the U.S. Attorney General, state Attorney General, Office of Children and Family Services and the St. Lawrence County Administrator.
At previous meetings, Raven shared her story with the public and noted that her children have been kept from here for more than a year under what she says are inappropriate circumstances.
Recently, St. Lawrence County Administrator Ruth Doyle was given approval to hire an outside, non-state, agency to perform an investigation into the department. It is unclear who will be hired or what the scope of the investigation will include.
Although investigations are usually kept behind closed doors until they complete, there has been no indication at this time that any investigation involves law enforcement.
Griffin called on legislators to ensure that any investigation includes a look at the complaints and evidence put together by CHILD and attorney Michael Phillips, who have been vetting complaints for months.
She questioned why none of these organizations had been contacted by investigators and sought more information regarding what the Office of Children and Family Services had actually looked into.
She also vowed to continue attending meetings until problems at the department are dealt with.
Even prior to receiving public complaints, county officials were shaking things up in the department. They moved DSS legal under the purview of St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button. They have also added positions to the department to help address perceived staffing limitations.
Despite making it through her probationary period, St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services Director Cynthia Ackerman resigned recently without sharing a reason.
The county has not publicly named an interim director for the department though St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services Director of Services Heather Rand has been speaking at county meetings to answer questions related to the department.
While the department continues to take a beating in the public forum, North Country This Week has not found that any lawsuits have been filed against the department or its staff, nor have any criminal charges been filed.
Meanwhile North Country This Week is waiting for a report from the Office of Children Family Services regarding the Department of Social Services services that was performed in 2020. The report is alleged to have issued required actions.
The report was not generated based on complaints, but rather was a routine report issued by the department. North Country This Week will share information from the document when and if it is received.