Mayor Jones on Social Services: striving “to turn this agency around”

Jones decries the past behavior of Social Services that put children in danger, but vowed the agency will improve.

Update #2 — August 23, 2013; 11:09 AM

The Child Welfare League recently issued a report (PDF) on the City’s Child Welfare Division within the Department of Social Services. The report comes after accusations last year that children in the City’s care were exposed to danger (see bottommost post). The Child Welfare League (CWL) report is one of three that each examined the City agency (see below).

Here is Mayor Dwight Jones’s response to the recent CWL report:

“Earlier this year, I ordered the Department of Social Services to address each of the concerns raised in earlier reviews of the agency. This latest report acknowledges that we are dealing forthrightly with these problems and are taking corrective actions to fix them. Make no mistake: While we have a lot of work ahead, children’s safety will not be compromised. We are investing the resources needed to turn this agency around. Like every parent, I strongly believe this is the right thing to do.
“The report notes that the hearts of city child welfare workers are in the right place, and they are working hard to do the right thing, despite the serious problems that have come to light. Their jobs are important and tough, and I know that they are working hard to protect vulnerable children in Richmond. I am personally grateful for their commitment and for the leadership of Interim Deputy CAO Stephen Harms and Tonya Vincent, Interim Director of the Department of Social Services.”

In December, the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services, Dr. Carolyn Graham, was fired. In May, Social Services Director Doris Mosely retired, and Deputy Director Gayle Turner resigned. 

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Update #1 — May 10, 2013; 11:23 AM

After an indicting report (PDF) blaming management within the Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS) for behavior that endangered children in the City’s care, Mayor Dwight Jones announced the retirement of Social Services Director Doris Moseley, as well as the resignation of former Deputy Director Gayle Turner (see below).

“The report is difficult and painful to read. It highlights several failures in an agency charged with protecting our most vulnerable residents,” Jones said. “When we initiated the reviews of the Department of Social Services, I said that we would take immediate corrective actions as we became aware of problems. I am taking those next steps today.”

Three organizations will submit reviews of RDSS after accusations it endangered children were made public late last year (see below).

The first review was submitted yesterday by the Richmond Office of the Inspector General. Among its findings (PDF) was that employees of RDSS felt “intimidated” by immediate supervisors and upper management. Employees alleged that management “was verbally abusive to employees and constantly moved employees who did not follow their instructions when employees thought it was not in the best interest of their clients [i.e. children].”

“The findings in the Auditor’s report are very serious,” Jones said. “The safety of our children should not, and will not, be compromised. I fully expect the Department of Social Services to address each and every concern raised by this audit report and the two reports to follow.”

The Virginia Department of Social Services is expected to file its review of the RDSS next month, as will the Child Welfare League of America.

In January, Jones tapped Stephen Harms as the Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Human Services to investigate and correct problems at RDSS.

“Improvements have started, but the Department of Social Services has a long way to go,” Harms said. “Department management must provide the necessary guidance and support to help workers excel in their efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect. We need to restore confidence among all of our community partners in the capability of the department to be the vital hub of the City’s child welfare system.”

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Original — December 10, 2012

Dr. Carolyn Graham, former deputy chief administrative officer for Human Services for the city of Richmond, was ousted from her role on Friday, December 7th amid a City investigation resulting from accusations that children were exposed to danger while they were in the custody of the City’s Department of Social Services.

The City’s Press Secretary, Tammy Hawley, issued a statement saying:

The City remains focused on the ongoing review of the Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS) Child Welfare division. At our request, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) is continuing to review additional case files following the initial expedited case review the City requested. Although VDSS has not identified any need for corrective action at this time, the City has heeded the department’s suggestion that an outside review could also prove beneficial. We are proceeding diligently to ensure that all necessary safeguards for child safety are in place.

Hawley said that Dr. Graham will “be working with city leadership over the next few weeks to provide a transition plan for many of the important projects for which she had oversight responsibility.” The City’s chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, will serve as acting deputy chief administrative officer for Human Services until another interim is named.

Mayor Dwight Jones said:

The Richmond Department of Social Services is charged with the tremendous responsibility of helping to protect families and children in the city of Richmond. We must be certain that the Department’s policies and practices are working effectively and that the agency is operating above reproach as child safety is not an issue where there will be any equivocation.

The City has also placed deputy director for Child Welfare, Gayle Tuner, on administrative leave. Some have alleged that Turner spearheaded efforts to reduce the number of children in foster-care through means that endangered children. The City may make additional personnel decisions pending the VDSS and further external reviews.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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