RALEIGH — The state House voted unanimously on Wednesday for “Rylan’s Law,” legislation designed to prevent child abuse and deaths at the hands of troubled parents.
The vote came the same day the lawyer for Rylan Ott’s mother, Samantha Nacole Bryant, said his client had agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the toddler's death.
Rylan was a 23-month-old boy who drowned in April 2016. He had been returned to Bryant from foster care in December 2015 by a judge's order over the objections of his foster parents and his Guardian ad Litem, Pam Reed.
Rylan and his teenage sister had been taken from Bryant in October 2015 and put into foster care after Bryant got into a drunken fight with her boyfriend.
“I know that I observed erratic behavior on the mother’s part. The foster family did,” said Reed. As Rylan’s Guardian ad Litem, Reed was a volunteer who looked out for his interests in court.
The social worker assigned to Rylan’s case never observed the visits Bryant had with Rylan while he was still in foster care. Reed believes that if the social worker had made these observations, she would have recommended against Rylan’s return to Bryant.
Although Rylan had been returned to Bryant, he was still under supervision of the Moore County Department of Social Services when he died.
Following Rylan’s death, Reed asked Rep. Jamie Boles of Moore County to file Rylan’s Law.
Rylan’s Law would require the local Department of Social Services to have a social worker conduct at least two visits with parents whose children are in foster care. During these visits, the social worker would observe the parents’ interactions with their children.
The social worker could not recommend a child’s return to a parent until the parent and child had at least two observed visits where the social worker concluded that is the right decision.
Reed compared the observational visits to a driver's license test — a person can’t get a the license until an examiner personally observes whether the driver has sufficient skills to drive.
The legislation passed 119-0 in the House. It awaits consideration in the Senate. Reed, who attended Wednesday's House session to observe the vote, said she had feelings of relief when the bill passed, but it was bittersweet because Rylan had to die to make it happen.
“It’s a good day for kids in North Carolina,” Reed said. Following Rylan’s death, the Moore Department of Social Services began requiring observations, she said. If this bill becomes law, that will be a statewide mandate.
Rylan died when he wandered away from home and drowned in a pond. Bryant was charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent child abuse in connection with Rylan’s death.
Bryant was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday to face these charges, but the hearing was postponed.
Bryant’s lawyer, Arthur Donadio, said Bryant has agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse.
Donadio said he is seeking to have Bryant sentenced to probation and get credit for the year she has spent in jail awaiting trial. He said Moore County prosecutors want an active sentence.
Donadio said prosecutors want time to speak to Rylan’s father, Corey Ott, who lives in Texas. He said they want to give Ott the opportunity to tell the court how Rylan’s death has affected him.
Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland said he spoke to Ott recently, but he declined to elaborate. He said the hearing for Bryant has yet to be rescheduled.
Staff writer Greg Barnes contributed to this report.
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 486-3512 or 261-4710.