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Rockbridge DSS says it is making improvements following grand jury report

Department says staffing now the biggest issue

LEXINGTON, Va. – We're hearing for the first time from the board, as well as the director of the Rockbridge Social Services Department about changes underway following an investigation by a special grand jury. That investigation resulted in 25 recommendations for improvement after children were abused, and in two cases died, on the department's watch.

One of the biggest problems the report found was that social service cases would get ignored, and the former supervisor would forge the dates to make it look like they had been addressed in a timely manner. A lot of the new recommendations from the grand jury attempt to keep that from happening, but as WSLS learned Wednesday, it's still very much a work in progress.

"I'm hoping that we can have everything from the special grand jury completed by the end of the year," said director Suzanne Adcock, presenting her progress to the board Wednesday.

These updates are something that have become much more common since the special grand jury slammed the department in May, stopping just short of criminal charges.

"Giving a weekly update kind of gives us a progress, a sort of a thermometer I guess to see how well we're doing, how far we're reaching up to get to the top and so forth," said Duaine Fitzgerald, Social Services Board chair.

But what Adcock's updates reveal is that the department, that overlooked children being abused, is still floundering, and having trouble hiring staff in order to do an adequate job.

"Becoming fully staffed is my main goal at this point, and filling all of our open positions, which we've been working on for a few months now," said Adcock.

Working on, but without much success.

The department has only hired one position since the beginning of the year, and that's hampering other improvement efforts. For instance, the report called for Adcock to "institute a plan of corrective action for any CPS worker routinely failing to complete their assessments," but Adcock's report states that "until staffing is at an adequate level to handle the workload, this plan cannot be fully acted upon."

Nevertheless, Adcock says the department is making incremental progress, and says she is making sure the department is very transparent about it.

"We're reporting to the board... and we actually met a few weeks ago on a state of the agency meeting where we reviewed this document," said Adcock.

But some members of the public are still skeptical, referring to the grand jury report that said "even after infant deaths, the board members asked no probing questions."

A petition in the county to remove the board members now has more than 150 signatures, but Chair Duaine Fitzgerald says he doesn't intend to step down, and he still feels there has been improvement.

"I think we are a better board now than we were in the past, and we've got some new members, but I think we have learned," said Fitzgerald.

The board members will all undergo training next Tuesday as part of the recommendations from that report. Staff at the department are going through training as well, though Adcock says that may not be fully completed until the end of the year.