DSS Investigation: Deputy back to work under new title

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)—Drastic leadership changes at Richmond's Department of Social Services (DSS) over the past two weeks.

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer and overseer of the department, Carolyn Graham, resigned in the wake of calls for investigation of DSS.

Gayle Turner, Deputy Director of DSS, was placed on paid leave.  The mayor’s office confirmed Thursday that while Turner’s job status will not change she will return to work at the city as a policy analyst while the review of DSS continues.

The question at the heart of the review is whether or not children have been left too long in abusive homes, simply to try and drive down foster care numbers.

"Really want to put the kids best interests first...safety interests first,” said advocate Ian Danielson.

Child advocates that partner with DSS have been watching the situation unfold. Danielson, with Stop Abuse Child Abuse Now (SCAN) said that plummeting foster care numbers can't be ignored.

"We've seen a pretty extreme pendulum swing,"  said Danielson.

The social services attempt to reduce foster care numbers has been executed in accordance with the principles of a program known as “Child Services Transformation.”

The goal is to find ways to keep kids with their parents as often as possible, and going by the numbers, it seems Richmond has embraced the program–but perhaps at a cost to some children.

InRichmond, in 2009, there were 284 abuse and neglect petitions filed by DSS and in 2011 that number was down to 144.

Now, with one month left in 2012 there have been just 62 filed. That’s a difference of 222 petitions from 2009-2012.

Danielson said almost all child advocates believe in strong families and keeping children tied to roots that help them grow, but how it's being done is of critical importance.

"There's sometimes the risk of seeing a new philosophy in terms of numbers and we've got to make sure we still take kids one by one," said Danielson. 

While not remarking on shifts in leadership at Richmond DSS Danielson said a thorough review will only mean good things for kids.

"We have to put kid’s best interests first," said Danielson.

The Child Welfare League of America has plans to begin an audit of the agency soon.

We requested more information about Turner’s role and pay but CAO Byron Marshall did not respond.

We have been told that Tuner will not have any supervisory responsibilities.