Public forum held to discuss problems with Rockbridge County Social Services

LEXINGTON (WSLS 10) - People in the Rockbridge County community came together Thursday night to voice their concerns and discuss solutions to fix the social services department.

This after an internal investigation found the department had been shredding documents and ignoring cases of physical and sexual abuse to children.

In at least one case, it led to the death of an infant.

Just minutes after the meeting began in Lexington, stories about document-shredding, cases being ignored, even working under the table to get around supervisors began spilling out, describing years of misconduct at the Rockbridge County Department of Social Services.

"Anytime we have children dying in our community, that's a very big deal," said organizer Susan Lawrence.

Lawrence says she's been working for more than a decade to bring awareness to the problems in the Rockbridge County Social Services Department.

"If we can't even talk about it, we're never going to fix the problem, and that's a big part of the issue," said Lawrence.

Lawrence says she first became aware of issues when she tried to keep a foster child in her home.

He was taken from her after 30 days.

"He spent 8 years in foster care, from eight to sixteen, his whole childhood, never should have been there. We found out later through FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, that they had never processed our paperwork, they hadn't done the background checks, they hadn't done anything, which is why he couldn't stay with us," said Lawrence.

In the community meeting Thursday, it was clear Lawrence wasn't alone.

Child Mental Health Counselor Candace Berry says she wanted to offer in-home counseling services to the department, but was told by case workers her credentials had been shredded by the social services supervisor.

"The case workers had to give us referrals under the table and without her knowledge and we couldn't serve as many families as they had to serve, so it seemed like they were very frustrated," said Barry.

Thursday, Regional Social Services Director Susan Reece assured everyone in Rockbridge County, all those issues are now in the past.

She says her department is also working to determine if any other issues may exist in other departments.

"We realize that there could be agencies that might be experiencing some similar problems, so we are right now working on a proactive tool that would allow us to go in and do as many reviews as possible during the year and on a routine basis," said Reece.

Lawrence says that's a good step to take, because with a grand jury and the Office of the Inspector General getting involved, many more troubling details could still come to light.

"I do think that what we're going to find out in the long run is this isn't just a local issue, this isn't just Lexington or Rockbridge. The accountability for social services is a State issue," said Lawrence.

Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Billias says an investigative Grand Jury should take up the case within the next 60 days, and there will also be a member of the State Office of the Inspector General visiting the County next week to hopefully bring out more details into the investigation into the Rockbridge Department of Social Services.