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Report: Grand jury finds 'disturbing practices' in Rockbridge Child Protective Services

Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services (Photo: Google Maps)
Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services (Photo: Google Maps)
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ROCKBRIDGE Co., Va. (WSET) - The court has unsealed a report from the grand jury on the investigation into the Rockbridge County Department of Social Services.

The grand jury was formed on September 28, 2016 to "investigate and report on any condition that involves or tends to promote criminal activity" in the Child Protective Services branch of the department.

The grand jury determined that there is not enough clear evidence of criminal activity.

According to the report, the grand jury made the decision after seven months of work, 12 witness testimonies, and over 1,000 pages of transcripts from "individuals knowledgeable of the Department of Social Services."

While the jury said there was not enough evidence of criminal activity, the report says they found "many highly disturbing practices and activities" with Child Protective Services.

"Deficiencies in the agency and personnel created an environment which is not conducive for workers to properly respond to requests from members of the community which could have created or exacerbated conditions and situations dangerous to children. The CPS of RDSS failed in its primary mission to our community, that of protecting the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable population: the children of the Rockbridge, Lexington, and Buena Vista area," the report says.

The grand jury found the department did not have a system of checks and balances in place.

According to the report, law enforcement asked for a Quality Management Review in 2015 after the supervisor of the department, Brenda Perry, was uncooperative over "several instances."

The report says the review came after the death of an infant in 2013 and says the regional director, Susan Reese, did not respond to the request for the review in a timely manner after the review was authorized in January 2016.

"Perhaps if the Quality Management Review had been performed in 2015 as requested, an incidence of child abuse which lead to criminal prosecution may have been avoided and the death of another infant in April 2016 may have been prevented," the report says.

According to the grand jury, the board of directors for the department appeared to take a "hands-off approach to CPS, even when contacted by case workers who had concerns."

The grand jury determined the board did not have written guidelines or procedures to follow, or any formal training for new members.

The investigation revealed the evaluations for director Meredith Downey had the highest ratings and "seemed to be the exact same rating year over year."

Another thing uncovered by the investigation was the lack of performance reviews for Child Protective Services employees. According to the report, the grand jury couldn't find evidence of any regular, or periodic, reviews of staff.

The Quality Management Review and testimony from CPS workers revealed that workers received little mandated training. Workers said their requests for ongoing training was denied.

"Sworn testimony from several CPS workers indicated a level of concern that things in the department were not being done properly," the report reads. Workers testified their supervisor, Brenda Perry, would tell them not to write up reports.

The report says that during a case of child abuse and neglect, a CPS worker asked why the case hadn't been filed properly, and Perry responded "we don't do it that way or don't want it that way because that's the way I want."

According to the report, Child Protective Service workers were told not to "work with the law."

In the case of Charlee Marie Faith Ford, a four-month-old, who died in April 2016, the grand jury found that CPS gave law enforcement the runaround, and did not release their records on the child until May 3, 2016.

Law enforcement says they found evidence of drug use in the Ford's home.

According to the report, CPS had listed the Ford case as a low risk assessment, which it says was inaccurate.

"Had CPS worker Wade Cress accurately completed the assessment, and CPS director Brenda Perry not required a delay on the case...., the infant may have received a protective order and not been returned home," the report reads.

The special grand jury has the following recommendations for the department:

  • Immediate and open communication between Child Protective Services employees and the DSS.
  • The DSS should implement a system of checks and balances.
  • The CPS supervisor should provide staff with a checklist of all things to be done in an investigation.
  • A similar system to 911 should be implemented for a year to make sure all cases are entered into the state-wide system.
  • There should be a plan for corrective action if an employee is failing to meet their requirements.
  • Performance reviews should be written on an annual basis.

According to the report, the grand jury was "frustrated that there did not appear to be a criminal statue that would be directly applicable to the behavior that occurred at the RADSS."

"A group of policymakers, legal professionals, and practitioners should be convened in work in concert to draft legislation creating criminal penalties and consequences dealing with the kind of negligence and dereliction of duties by employees uncovered by the special grand jury's investigation," the report concludes.

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