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Staffing shortage overloads DSS workers with twice the recommended caseload

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–Richmond Police are still actively investigating the death of a 10-month-old baby girl, the sister of a fraternal twin who has been taken into protective custody.

Gionna Sydnor was discovered unresponsive while in the care of her mother at a southside apartment. The child’s grandmother, who said she is shocked and brokenhearted over the loss, is determined to know why the toddler’s life was suddenly cut short in the beginning of November.

“I want to know why she died and no one is telling me anything,” Adrienne Sydnor,  Gionna’s grandmother, said. “She had no medical problems…none.”

Sydnor claimed she called Richmond Child Protective Services several times in October, and even just two days before Gionna’s death because she was worried about the twins living environment.

Social workers told CBS 6 part of the reason that calls for help have been slipping through the cracks is because of staffing issues.

So we asked for the numbers.

It was almost exactly a year ago that CBS 6 began reporting problems at Richmond’s child welfare agency. Our investigation was prompted by reports of children being returned again and again to abusive homes.

Three separate audits found that the system had failed many of Richmond’s most vulnerable children. The scenarios of repeated abuse and lack of protective care, all to keep foster care numbers low, painted a picture of an agency in crisis.

Top leadership was removed. And since then child removals from abusive homes have also gone up.

A year later, we’ve learned problems still exist at the agency–specifically when it comes to staffing. The agency is still largely understaffed.

Currently there are about give five DSS workers on rotation, handling 134 ongoing cases.

And about 15 social workers are handling the intake of close to 400 children. For workers that’s an average caseload of 27 cases, when the recommended industry standard is 12. The mayor’s office acknowledges a staffing shortage but claim they are working to improve things.

“The city is actively recruiting and remains in a posture of open and continuous recruitment. We are also thankful to the staff who have remained committed to this work,” the mayor’s spokesperson said.

We asked council president Charles Samuels to weigh in on the shortage of staff.

“This state of affairs cannot continue. After several audits and reviews there is no question what needs to be done. The safety of our children is my first priority. If money is an issue  I will work with the administration to ensure we budget the necessary funds to protect our children,” Samuels said.

To follow CBS 6 extensive reporting on DSS, click here.