Thursday, January 16, 2014

Statement from City of Richmond following Investigation of Case Closings at Child Protective Services

The following statement was released by Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services Stephen W. Harms following a press conference held with City Auditor Umesh Dalal:

“We appreciate the City Auditor’s continued assistance in identifying deficiencies and opportunities to improve the operations of the Richmond Department of Social Services (RDSS). We have made many improvements in that department, but clearly more are needed. 

“Mayor Jones acted swiftly when deficiencies were initially found. Personnel changes were made from top to bottom. Three external reviews were requested and completed last year, providing a blueprint for improvements. Deputy Police Chief Tonya Vincent, who agreed to serve as the interim director for social services since May, initiated many improvements. We thank her for her dedicated service under very difficult conditions and wish her well in her new position. We soon expect to name a new permanent director to continue the progress started by Chief Vincent and the current acting director Becky China.

“As part of its review last year, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) required a corrective action plan for the City’s child welfare programs. That plan was completed in July 2013, by the deadline imposed by the state. Implementation of that plan was projected to take many months, with progress milestones identified for each month. RDSS has completed 54 of the 87 specific actions included in the plan and the department continues to work to address all concerns raised.

“However, child protective services remains the greatest challenge. Caseloads were high, morale was low, and training and supervision were limited. Training for new workers and refresher training for existing workers is underway, with more to come. Efforts to recruit new workers continue, but turnover and medical leave in these high-stress CPS positions is high. As we fill positions, reduce caseloads, and change supervisors, we expect morale to improve. RDSS reorganizations added staff with CPS experience to the CPS unit.  Workers and supervisors worked extended hours. We even offered to pay overtime to CPS workers from nearby localities – with limited success because of their caseloads.

“Collectively, these efforts produced some positive results.  DSS started with a backlog of 840 overdue referrals five months ago.  Since that time, 472 new cases were added for a total of 1,312 cases to be reviewed over the past five months.  Today, DSS has a total of 499 cases, comprised of 347 overdue referrals and 152 current cases.

“As we learned from the auditor’s most current review, one of the strategies used during this period was a triage process. Faced with an overwhelming backlog and almost 100 new allegations to investigate every month program staff attempted to close old cases deemed low risk so they could investigate incoming new allegations with high risk. As the auditor found, and the state confirmed, some of these cases in the backlog were closed inappropriately. We intend to take the following corrective actions immediately:

“The Virginia Department of Social Services has agreed to independently review investigations during the period in question to determine how many might be high risk and open to further investigation. VDSS has also generously agreed to provide state personnel in supervisory and consultant capacities on a short-term basis.  By law, however, only local DSS employees can actually conduct investigations, so VDSS has agreed to ask other localities to identify recently retired CPS workers who might be willing to work temporarily for the City. At the same time, we will continue on-going recruitment and training of permanent CPS workers. We will also take appropriate disciplinary sanctions as recommended by the Auditor.

“Our goal for Richmond DSS is full compliance and manageable caseloads for all our CPS workers, so they can appropriately and thoroughly investigate all complaints of abuse and neglect. We must and will ensure the safety of the City’s children. As Mayor Jones has stated, CPS must operate above reproach and we will continue to make adjustments to reach that goal.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Richmond Selected as 2013 Pacesetter for Community Effort to Promote Early Reading

~National honor recognizes collaborative campaign to ensure more low-income students
are reading on grade level by the end of third grade~
The City of Richmond’s campaign to improve reading proficiency among its youngest students has been recognized as a 2013 Community Pacesetter by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading   (GLR), an honor that reflects the energy, mobilization and creativity that the local community has brought to this important work.

“I am extremely pleased to learn that Richmond has been named a 2013 Pacesetter Community by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Collaboration is critical in addressing educational issues, and the range of partners involved in developing Richmond’s youth shows our community’s commitment to selfless sharing as we strive to achieve our grade level reading goals,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “Engaging youth, strengthening families and transforming communities is paramount in building a stronger future for our great city.”

Richmond launched its Grade Level Reading initiative in the summer of 2012, making it one of 140 communities   working with the GLR Campaign, a nationwide movement of local leaders, states, nonprofits and foundations putting a stake in the ground on third-grade reading. The communities are adopting a collective impact strategy, engaging the full community around the goal of supporting low-income children from birth through third grade.

Acknowledging that schools alone cannot address all the challenges that keep children from learning to read, the City Administration works with nonprofits and other partners to help ensure that children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed, attend school regularly and keep learning through the summer months. Key accomplishments within the city include, the City’s Department of Justice Services partnership with Richmond Public Schools for a new three-year focus of improving school attendance during Attendance Awareness Month; a project to improve children’s transition from child care or home care into kindergarten that the City Administration is implementing with Richmond Promise Neighborhood and the City’s Quality Child Care focus; and the Richmond Public Library’s summer project with YMCA and the Friends Association to test summer learning interventions.

“We are impressed and inspired by what Richmond has accomplished so far,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and a senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “ With its commitment, resourcefulness and collaborative spirit, Richmond’s focus on children reading on grade level by grade three truly is setting the pace and providing a model for communities across the nation who are seeking to give more children from low-income families a chance at a brighter future."

The City of Richmond is one of 35 Pacesetters named for 2013. Richmond was previously named a Finalist in the 2012 All-America City competition for its collaborative plans to focus on reading improvement for children.

Launched in May 2010, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, states and communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. It focuses on reading proficiency by the end of third grade, a key predictor of high school graduation and a milestone missed by fully 80 percent of low-income children. For media inquiries, contact Phyllis Jordan at or (301) 656-0348.