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CBS 6 INVESTIGATES: Review confirms abuse case files missing

Posted at 5:47 PM, Feb 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-06 00:02:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- An update to an ongoing CBS 6 investigation finds the state review of Richmond's Department of Social Services (DSS) has been unable to locate some child abuse case files.

Those hard copies contain information about abused children at the center of the review.

This review of DSS has only been underway for about a month after allegations surfaced in December that the department was leaving some children in unsafe homes for too long to try and keep foster care numbers low. [RELATED: DSS sees jump in protection orders for city kids]

"The Department of Social Services in the city of Richmond has lost all credibility with reasonable people,” said government watchdog Paul Goldman.

CBS 6 is told about 200 case files would be reviewed by the state as part of their investigation. Mayor Dwight Jones’ office confirms there are 37 files that are nowhere to be found.

Shortly after the review began, Carolyn Graham the head of the department, resigned and Gayle Turner, DSS Deputy Director, was placed on administrative leave.

Those conducting the review do not know where the missing files are -- or how they disappeared.

"We find this very troubling,” said Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall.

City administrators are calling the missing files a system flaw that must be immediately corrected and saying there could be criminal liability tied to this incident. But the information about the missing files, triggered additional questions for CBS6.

On December 4, 2012, reporter Catie Beck heard reports from social workers inside DSS that other employees were shredding documents.

Beck sent an email to administrators asking for answers about the allegations. Marshall reported back quickly that they had asked questions about the allegations but had no reason to believe they were true.

"I had a tip that shredding was going on so we asked questions but found no evidence of it," said Marshall.

Marshall says Tuesday’s revelation confirms that the state review is doing what the city hoped it would--exposing existing problems. Marshall also admits that upon learning 37 files are in fact missing, that it is possible that those accounts from employees were true.  He admits it's possible the children's files were deliberately destroyed.

“At this point it’s certainly possible," said Marshall.

The mayor's office released a statement on the findings late Tuesday afternoon, saying that only one of the missing case files had turned up as of Tuesday.

"The department’s poor record keeping practices is a weakness and a flaw that must be immediately corrected,” Stephen Harms, the Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Richmond’s Department of Human Services admitted. However, he also said some of the missing info is available in automated files and that some of the requested files were closed cases.

“We have taken immediate steps to secure files and have asked for a review to determine if there is criminal liability or legal exposure related to the missing hard records that would require us to bring this matter to the Commonwealth’s Attorney," Harms said. "State retention laws for these types of files have likely been violated in most of the cases.”

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