Neglect, Abuse Ignored by Local Social Services

By: Jeffrey Valentine, 3L
Section Editor

An internal review found that Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services failed to investigate multiple reports of child abuse and neglect. The review identified forty-one problems. Chief among them was evidence that a former department supervisor shredded reports before they could go to the Child Protective Services Unit for assessment.

The report did not name the su­pervisor that had shredded the reports, but at least one newspaper, The Roanoke Times, was quick to note that the previ­ous director of the Rockbridge Agency, Meredith Downer, had announced her retirement during the investigation.

The report showed that there were an alarmingly high number of screen-outs. While every child protective agen­cy must screen out cases due to the sheer volume of the calls that they receive, the percentage of such cases by the Rockbridge Child Protec­tive agency has been alarmingly high in the past. During a one year period, the Rockbridge Area of Social Servic­es received 271 complaints. A little more than half of those com­plaints, 158, were screened out.

Other problems uncovered by the report included slow response times, altered documents, and low staff mo­rale. At least one case cited in the re­port included a child that would later die. Currently, the Department is under investigation by the Rockbridge Sher­iff’s Office. Some sources claim that the Sheriff’s Of­fice has been troubled by the inactions of the agency for years but that it was the child’s death that finally spurred the of­fice into action.

The ma­jority of work­ers surveyed at the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services described an atmo­sphere of “bullying,” “harassment,” and “intimidation” that was fostered by their supervisor. Some workers even claimed to have been so worried about some of the screened-out cases that they offered services in secret.

Although no charges have been brought against the supervisor who shredded the reports of abuse and neglect before they could be sent to the Child Protective Services Unit for assessment, the regional office, located in Roanoke, Virginia, has sent a specialist to help the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services fix the many problems noted in the report. Hopefully, this will be suc­cessful as many children who face ne­glect and abuse throughout the country rely on the assistance of child protective services. It is important that children in this area can also rely on the Rock­bridge Department of Social Services when they are facing abuse or neglect.

The problems at the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services are just one example of the many institu­tional problems that limit the effective­ness of our society’s ability to intervene when a child is facing abuse or neglect

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