Amid controversy, St. Lawrence County Dept. of Social Services Director Ackerman resigns
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
CANTON — As allegations of misconduct pile up against the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, director Cynthia Ackerman has resigned.
County officials confirmed that Ackerman resigned effective Aug. 23. Ackerman has served in the position for one-year and had just completed her probationary term Aug. 16.Ackerman inherited a job that was swirling with controversy with a variety of alleged staffing issues. Her time as the department head also coincided with court delays and other issues related to the pandemic restrictions imposed by the state.
Additionally she was at the helm when foster parents went public with complaints against the department and some of its employees.
In June, a dozen letters were submitted to the county and shared with North Country This Week by the Law Office of Michael Phillips, Clinton County, which is working to help several biological parents, foster parents and grandparents who say they have struggled to get positive outcomes from the department.
Allegations in the letters include ethical concerns such as DSS employees and agents fostering children and collecting boarding rates that are disproportionately higher than what many foster parents who do not work for the department receive.
They also allege that DSS workers and their agents have disregarded medical and professional opinions, treated people with disrespect and kept children from biological and foster parents out of retaliation against those who have spoken against them.
Because most of the complaints are not public due to being handled in family court, North Country This Week has not been able to independently verify all of the allegations.
And while most allegations pre-date Ackerman’s appointment to the job, the department has been under a microscope by legislators and the public for several months.
County legislators have been addressing issues within the department including moving DSS legal matters under the purview of the county attorney.
In recent months, the county has been making progress on moving cases through the court system more quickly, although many complaints continue to stream in.
The state Office of Children and Family Services has done some oversight review of the recent complaints made about the Department of Social Services, St. Lawrence County Administrator Ruth Doyle told legislators at a recent meeting.
On Monday the St. Lawrence County Legislator discussed hiring an independent organization to look into the complaints.
It’s unclear who will replace Ackerman at this time. However Doyle said a search will be conducted.
“The County has a leadership structure in place to ensure the Department of Social Services can continue providing support to people in need. This will allow the discussion for an Interim to occur while recruitment efforts are prepared. It is anticipated that a Search Committee will be appointed by the Chair at the September Board Meeting to find a replacement,” she said.