Rockbridge County man describes abuse while under Social Services custody

By Rob Manch - Reporter
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ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Tonight, we're looking into an ongoing legal dispute over a set of files that were kept by the Rockbridge Department of Social Services.

The files detail the journey of one child, Michael Lawrence, through the system for eight years.

Michael's adoptive mother, Susan, obtained the files through a court order.

Now, the department wants them back.

Michael was in and out of foster families and facilities for eight years.

During that time he remembers cuts and bruises from violence he sustained, all overlooked by the department.

Now, as a grand jury prepares to investigate, Michael and his mother want to make sure the file gets to them.

"I was always covered in bruises and cuts and everything," said Michael.

Ten years after his time as a foster child, Michael Lawrence remembers some of his darkest moments while living at the Liberty Point center in Staunton.

"I don't think people quite understand fully how detrimental it is for any person to be placed somewhere they don't want to be, locked, and more times than not, convinced that you're crazy," said Michael.

Michael says, in one documented instance, he was restrained by staff violently.

"He took me forward, and of course I resisted someone physically trying to escort me somewhere I don't want to be, and he kicked me down to the ground, and he pushed my face against the concrete, I mean the tile floor, broke my teeth out," said Michael.

Michael was sixteen at the time, and he says he was hardly the only one staff got violent with.

"I knew a kid once who left not long after I was there, it was a little while after, that got in a fist fight with one of the staff, and the staff literally knocked him out, and it just happened right there in the middle of the kitchen, the cafeteria area," said Michael.

Michael had a case worker in Rockbridge County he turned to initially.

"I never thought of her as being much help, and I don't think she ever was, I mean I think that she worked for the same people that created a lot of the problems," said Michael.

Michael's now adoptive mother, Susan Lawrence, ultimately got him out of foster care, and through a court order, obtained documentation to corroborate much of Michael's accounts.

"I was shocked at the documents that well-documented the neglect and the inability to provide professional services for that office, and the liability," said Susan.

Michael says that neglect effects him to this day.

"I struggle with PTSD from a lot of those things and it affects me on a daily basis," said Michael.

Now, the Rockbridge Department of Social Services is taking the Lawrences to court, because the department wants the original copy of the file back, but after hearing that the previous supervisor shredded documents, Susan says she's fighting it.

"We don't want to have it come back and somebody's gone through it and purged papers out of it," said Susan.

Michael says he just hopes the grand jury has the opportunity to see his story on paper.

"I hope it has a positive impact on people too. I hope kids stop getting hurt," said Michael.

Susan already went before a general district court judge two weeks ago that ruled she needed to return the files back to the Department of Social Services.

She has appealed that initial ruling and has a new court date set in circuit court on December 21st.

WSLS reached out to the attorney representing the Department of Social Services, but have not heard back.

Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved