CARROLL COUNTY, Va. – The Carroll County Department of Social Services is under investigation for violating Virginia laws, rules and policies meant to protect children and families.
10 News uncovered seven different investigations – some with serious findings. 10 News talked to one mother who is still fighting to get her children back after they went into foster care nearly four years ago.
“I want them to know that their mommy loves them,” said Angela Key.
The mother’s three children were taken away.
“I fell into substance abuse and they were taken into foster care,” said Key.
That was May 2019.
“I worked very hard to get sober,” she said and went on to explain how long she has been sober. “Four years, May 20. The day they took them. I did everything, everything I could to get them back.”
But she was “set up for failure”, according to a report 10 News obtained from an office within the governor’s office, tasked with investigating complaints involving children in foster care.
The report describes how the Carroll County Department of Social Services “showed little regard for the laws, regulations, and policies” that would have protected the members of this family.
A state investigation found, “From the moment the children were first removed from her care in May, 2019, the agency engaged in actions and made decisions that made it increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible for her to be reunited with her children.”
The investigation revealed the department of social services didn’t investigate the case fully and failed to stay in touch with Angela. She appeared to be winning her battle with addiction but Carroll County discounted strides she made.
“We needed their help. We needed them to work at reunification. That would have been best for my children,” said Key, as her youngest was 3-years-old at the time. “I can imagine he probably thinks his mommy doesn’t want him.”
Key showed 10 News all the files she’s kept.
“All of this is my tons and tons of evidence. The whole entire case from 2019 on. I wrote my own statements of objections and corrections,” she explained.
Key says she realized early on there was a problem and started documenting everything.
“To each review that the foster worker would submit to the court, there was tons of lies and misinformation and lack of information. So I would correct each of those,” said Key, who has has thousands of pages of emails, facebook messages, documented conversations and more.
“They weren’t really talking to me. They weren’t really telling me anything to do after those things were settled and done, and they weren’t coming to the home to see my children’s rooms and drug test me randomly, I started doing drug screens on my own,” said Key. “I would beg them to tell me anything at all about what they wanted, if they weren’t anything further than that. If there was going to be meetings held. What did they want me to do? And they just were not communicating.”
Frustrated, she reached out to the state, the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, who can investigate any department of social services.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE OFFICE OF THE CHILDREN’S OMBUDSMAN IN THIS WSLS 10 NEWS STORY
The investigation found big issues with the way her case was handled from the very beginning that echo her claims. The state confirmed:
- an inadequate investigation by child protective services.
- ”the lack of urgency or interest” to “achieve reunification”
- ”lack of meaningful visitation with the children”
- court records that contained incomplete and inaccurate information, and
- ”troubling internal policies”
“If they had allowed family therapy, like was recommended by counselors and my providers, it would have changed the whole trajectory of the case. Made all the difference in the world,” said Key. “They weren’t allowing meaning meaningful visitations, that they basically did not work at reunification.”
The State found reunification was “impossible to achieve for the mother.” Giving the mother of three some vindication but not her children.
“It was proven. They had lied. They had broken laws, they had violated policies and our rights. They had done wrong,” said Key.
It turns out Angela’s is not the only case. There have been seven recent investigations into Carroll County DSS and two of those cases have what they call “serious findings”.
The state wants Carroll County to make specific improvements, but they are not revealing what they are to 10 News.
“Now they’re under a microscope. It is needed to be, and held accountable. With no accountability, that’s how they was getting away with all the evil. That is evil,” said Key, who is still working to get her children back.
Her parental rights were terminated, but she’s appealing that decision. Her case is going in front of a three judge panel at the Court of Appeals of Virginia next month.
“I want them to know that their mommy loves them. I want them to know when they’re old enough I really want them to know that everything was done this way. This is why this happened. Mommy did everything right,” said Key.
It’s important to note the findings and decisions of the courts are not subject to review during this state investigation process. The courts determined there was neglect, imminent threat to the children and termination of parental rights was in the best interest of the children.
We’ll keep working for you on this story. We’ll be in court to see what happens with Angela and her children and we are in contact with the state to see what action they take with the Carroll County Department of Social Services.
We asked Carroll County for an interview, and they said if we sent written questions, they would be happy to review them to determine whether a response is permitted or appropriate.
The Director of Carroll County DSS, Teresa Isom, sent 10 News the following in response to our questions:
“State law requires that local departments of social services maintain the confidentiality of CPS and foster care information concerning specific cases in order to protect the privacy of children and families. Therefore, the Department cannot disclose information concerning specific cases. Although this confidentiality protection serves an important purpose, it also limits the ability of local departments to share a complete set of facts so that a fair and accurate picture of the case may be formed. As you know, there are two sides to every story. Furthermore, every CPS and foster care case is subject to a rigorous system of checks and balances to ensure that the right decisions are made for children and families. Every case is subject to regular reviews and strict scrutiny by the courts. In addition, every child and family is served by a team of professionals and service providers who make recommendations and advocate for the goals of foster care placements. Prior to taking action, the Department consults with these resources, foster parents, the guardian ad litem for the child, families, and children in an age-appropriate manner. The Department’s primary goal is to reunify the family. However, this goal is not always achievable and in the best interest of the child.
The Office of the Children’s Ombudsman was established to evaluate cases and to make recommendations to promote best practices within local departments of social services. Under state law, the reports of the OCO are confidential and not subject to disclosure. The OCO does not review court decisions, and its reviews are primarily based upon document reviews and informal interviews. Although the OCO serves a valuable purpose, the OCO’s review process is not intended as a substitute for review by the courts, who make the final decision in each case.”