35ºF

WSLS Exclusive with Rockbridge woman filing DOJ complaint about VDSS

photo
(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - A Rockbridge County woman who says the Department of Social Services ignored her adoptive son's case for years is now filing a complaint with the Department of Justice.

Susan Lawrence says her son Michael was severely injured while under the custody of Social Services years ago, and wants to make sure changes are made so it never happens to another child again.

The documents show that the Rockbridge Department of Social Services was basically refusing to work with Lawrence when all this was happening back in 2008.

It was only when the department's new director, Bill Burleson, took over that she was finally able to obtain them after six years of trying.

What they show is proof that on separate occasions, her son Michael had his leg fractured and his teeth knocked out by staff of a behavioral health facility, all while Lawrence says he should never have been there in the first place.

"When I got these files, and I mean there's tons of files here, I was horrified to kind of relive it in a way I hadn't," said Lawrence.

Lawrence watched her now son Michael go through the Social Services Department in Rockbridge County for eight years, from 2000 to 2008.

She says it began with her taking him in as a foster parent.

"He was eight, easy to get along with, things, as far as we were concerned, were going very well. Then at the end of the month, suddenly they said that he would be going to visit a home in Roanoke," said Lawrence.

The Department took Michael and bounced him around to different living situations for the next eight years.

He never stayed in the same place for more than a year.

"He was lost in the system," said Lawrence.

Lawrence would find out in 2009, through a Freedom of Information Act Request, that the department never filed her paperwork to become a foster parent.

She then began a long fight with Social Services to try to gain custody of Michael.

"Rockbridge DSS just would not return the call, wouldn't respond to us in any way," said Lawrence.

She believes the fight may have been the result of a personal grudge held by a supervisor at the time.

In a document she submitted to Social Services, Lawrence says that supervisor had an "inability to separate personal and professional issues."

Then, between 2006 and 2007, while Michael was living at a behavioral health facility, the unthinkable happened.

"At the end, they fractured his leg and then they broke his teeth out and that finally was enough."

Enough for a Lexington judge to agree to hold an emergency hearing, which resulted in custody of Michael being taken away from the Social Services Department and transferred to Lawrence.

"When we walked out the doors, the people from Liberty Point in Staunton met with us and said well we're going to take him now and we'll set up a time to meet with you to figure out his transition. It's like you just broke his teeth out, he's not leaving with you," said Lawrence.

Lawrence says the fact alone that it took until 2016 to prove her story is evidence enough for her that the state isn't holding localities accountable.

"Nobody knows what to do, and so we need to have the Department of Justice to come in and look at what's going on, and tell Virginia to figure it out, and figure it out now," said Lawrence.

The last line of Lawrence's complaint to the Department of Justice addresses her biggest concern.

It reads "there is no process, policy, or procedure in place to appropriately address or fix these problems, and no plan to create the changes needed."

She feels Michael is just one case out of many, and she wants the federal government to ultimately hold her elected officials accountable.