GASTONIA, N.C. -- Gaston County's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) made changes in April to its Community Child Protection Team to ensure no abused children slip through the cracks.
Originally, the team held meetings in conjunction with the county's Child Fatality Team.
By splitting them into separate meetings, DHHS administrator Melanie Lowrance believed the team, which includes prosecutors, social workers and first responders will be able to more effectively review the county's current caseload.
"It gives the community the ability to review those cases and really weigh in on what services we can provide," Lowrance said. "[Also], what services the community can provide to help protect children."
She said DHHS needs the community to trust its workers enough to report abuse.
But in the past nine months, trust between the department and some community members has been frayed.
DHHS' headquarters has been the site of small protests after people accused social workers of not doing enough to prevent the death of three-year-old Jordyn Dumont.
Dumont's mother and boyfriend, William McCullen, had been investigated by DHHS for abuse back in early 2016. But the department took no actions against the couple. A few months later, McCullen was arrested and charged with beating Dumont to death.
A court-issued gag order prohibits Lowrance from discussing the case, but she acknowledged the department continues to take steps to build community trust.
"We are striving to be as transparent as we can be and certainly accountable to the community who depends on us to be that safety net for families," Lowrance said.