Statement of Mayor Dwight C. Jones Regarding Leadership of the Richmond Department of Social Services

Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement regarding the leadership of the Richmond Department of Social Services and the operations of the Child Protective Services unit:

“I’m here today to provide a status report on the operations of the City’s Department of Social Services, and in particular, to address on-going concerns regarding the Child Protective Services unit.

“It’s been just over one year since we began making major changes in the Department’s functioning:

     • Personnel changes were made from top to bottom.
     • We named an interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Human Services.
     • We called for an internal audit of the City’s Child Welfare Practices.
     • We called for external reviews of the agency by the Virginia Department of Social

           Services and the Child Welfare League of America.
     • On-site reviews of case files were done.
     • Matters of compliance were heavily reviewed.
     • Staff interviews and stakeholder interviews were conducted.
     • A corrective action plan was developed and is currently in motion; to include more staff training.

“Over this period, some strengths in the Richmond Department of Social Services were noted, but weaknesses also continue to be cited. Most recently, the City’s auditor issued a report last month identifying additional deficiencies in the operations of the department.

“What’s apparent to me is that we are still not doing the best job with respect to protecting the safety of vulnerable children. That is unacceptable to me.

“The problems we are working to address are more deep-seated than anticipated.

“So, today I am announcing that David Hicks, my senior policy advisor, will serve as interim director of the Department of Social Services until we identify the right permanent placement. He will report directly to me in that capacity. I believe that David can offer valuable insight and leadership to help uncover the process issues that need to be fixed and that will ultimately turn the agency around.

“The Virginia Department of Social Services remains very much a partner in our efforts to improve. We’ve also accepted additional support from VDSS, and a process-centric analysis is currently underway. The state-assigned specialist is currently in the discovery phase, which I expect to be completed within the next week. After that time, we’ll begin implementation of the process issues that need to be corrected and I believe, based on the information provided and the additional steps that we are taking, that we’ll see a much stronger functioning agency within the next six months.

“We will continue to call on Steve Harms for his support in the role of the interim deputy chief administrative officer (DCAO) for human services for as long as he is available to us in that capacity and until we have named a permanent placement in that role. The DCAO role remains responsible for the general oversight of the Department of Social Services, Human Services, Libraries and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities. The DCAO also serves as the City’s liaison to Richmond Behavioral Health Authority and Richmond City Health District.

“Steve will continue to focus on quality management and compliance issues, while David will help us delve into the process issues that continue to affect this agency.

“Every child should have the opportunity to grow up in a safe, loving and stable environment. Our job is to fill the gap when such an environment is not available to a child. I believe the reinforcements we are announcing today will help improve the outcomes for any vulnerable children, youth and families in our city that we should be serving.

“We noted before, and I still believe today, that there are many very capable staffers in the Richmond Department of Social Services. I want to thank Ms. Becky China, one of those dedicated professionals who served as interim director over the past several weeks following deputy police chief Tonya Vincent’s departure from that role. Ms. China will return to her regular duties in that department and we will continue to call on her valuable experience.

“We are going to address the remaining weaknesses and strengthen the operation of this critical agency. The bottom line is that I will accept nothing less than the Richmond Department of Social Services being a high performing agency, performing all duties according to all applicable standards and ensuring the utmost in child safety practices.”