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.”