Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Richmond Social Services File Management System Being Questioned


~State Review cannot find hard copies of records that should accompany automated files~

At the request of the City of Richmond, on January 28, 2013, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) began on-site reviews of hard copies of case files and staff interviews related to 200 cases in foster care and adoption, child protective services, and family services as part of an in-depth review of policies and procedures. A review of automated records had previously been underway following a number of allegations the City received concerning the management of the department. 

Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services, Stephen Harms, reported today that VDSS advised him on Thursday evening that 37 of 100 requested Child Protective Services (CPS) hard copies of case files could not be found. As of Tuesday, February 5, only 1 of those case files has been located.

“While some information on these cases is available in the automated files and the files requested were closed cases, the department’s poor record keeping practices is a weakness and a flaw that must be immediately corrected,” said Harms. “As I’ve said, we will not wait for the reviews to be completed before we act on any problems. We have taken immediate steps to secure files and have asked for a review to determine if there is criminal liability or legal exposure related to the missing hard records that would require us to bring this matter to the Commonwealth’s Attorney. State retention laws for these types of files have likely been violated in most of the cases.”

Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced plans in December to conduct an in-depth review of policies and procedures of the Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS) Child Welfare Division. That decision followed an expedited case review, undertaken at the City’s request, by VDSS as a result of a number of allegations the City received about RDSS policies, procedures and management. VDSS later agreed to conduct a broader assessment as well. The City has also engaged a national agency to help with the broad review.

“I’ve asked Mr. Harms to get to the bottom of who is responsible for this operational failure in the Department of Social Services,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “Child Protective Services must operate above reproach. Accurate record-keeping must be in place to ensure confidence in the system. I want everyone who is responsible to be held accountable. I also want all of the information provided to the City Auditor, and I am requesting an internal investigation into this matter.” 

Mr. Harms noted that the matter is still under review with the State and that every effort is being made to reconstruct records where possible. “We are referring this matter to the City Auditor as the Mayor has requested, to determine if state laws or regulations have been violated. In this way, we will therefore have a formal report of findings that can be presented to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, if necessary. The report of findings will also be utilized for our own internal personnel considerations. There are many very capable staffers in the Richmond Department of Social Services. Together we are going to address weaknesses and strengthen the operation of this critical agency,” Harms said.