DSS sees jump in protection orders for city kids

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–City leaders confirmed that an investigation of Richmond’s Department of Social Services (DSS) is underway.

The investigation—as first reported on CBS 6– stemmed from reports that children were being left in dangerous homes for too long in order to keep foster care numbers low.
   
“I think the entire agency top to bottom really needs a shake- up,” said community advocate Paul Goldman. 

The truth is things have been shaken up at Richmond’s Department of Social Services since the end of November. That’s when allegations first surfaced that the agency was leaving children in abusive homes too long.

Within about a week the agency’s top overseer Carolyn Graham stepped down and the DSS deputy director, Gayle Turner, was placed on leave.

“It’s one thing to remove incompetent administrators, but that they did that under duress,” said Goldman.

The city audit has caught another potential red flag. Now it appears a sudden change has been made to the way cases involving abused children are being handled.

A number of DSS employees had previously written to city leaders that they felt that there was a department mandate against removing children from homes. It seems that immediately after the leadership was removed, so were a lot more children.

“It seems like a lot of cases were all of the sudden acted on,” said Council President Charles Samuels.

Samuels is talking about child abuse and neglect petitions filed with the court. The petitions resulted in protection orders for kids, or for their removal from an abusive home. The number of petitions at DSS had dropped by nearly 70 percent since 2009.  But after recent leadership changes and council leader’s calls for investigation, they’ve seen a spike.

“When you see a jump in numbers like that it makes it look like we were right,” said Samuels.

For the first five months of last year, from January 2012 through May 2012,  there were 23 petitions filed.  Through the summer and fall there were on average about three removals a month. But in just the last three weeks of December there were 18 petitions filed. That’s the largest number of any month last year.

“It raises eyebrows and makes you think there may have been a real issue there,” said Samuels.

We’re told the city auditor has started his part of the investigation, the state still plans to do an in depth review, and a child welfare agency will audit DSS for best practices.

CBS 6 asked to speak with the Stephen Harms, the man who has temporarily replaced Carolyn Graham, to get a timeline on these things, but were told he wasn’t doing interviews.