David Hicks named Interim Director of Richmond Social Services

Posted at 11:49 AM, Feb 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-11 01:18:29-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Former Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks was named interim director of the Richmond Department of Social Services (DSS).

Hicks confirmed his appointed earlier Monday to CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit.

"I believe that David can offer valuable insight and leadership to help uncover the process issues that need to be fixed and that will ultimately turn the agency around," Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones said in a statement.

Hicks previously served as interim director of Richmond's Department of Judicial Services.

Hicks said Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones asked him to put a fresh set of eyes on the department to find out what is going on. He said the mayor is concerned over recent reports that problems exposed by city auditor Umesh Dalal were closed without ever being investigated.

The situation within Richmond's Department of Social Services has been the subject of on-going WTVR CBS 6 News reports.

Last month Tonya Vincent, who served as DSS interim director, resigned from the job. Vincent took over the department while the city searched for a full-time replacement.

Last May, DSS Director Doris Moseley announced her retirement amid controversy.

Moseley was in charge of the department when the Office of the Inspector General published a report that detailed mismanagement within the agency.

During a CBS 6 investigation, DSS employees said agency management made the emergency removal of children from abusive homes almost impossible.

Mayor Jones confirmed Monday that problems at DSS are more deep-seated than expected.

“What`s apparent to me is that we are still not doing the best job with respect to protecting the safety of vulnerable children,” Jones said.

Two audits over the past year from the City Auditor , Umesh Dalal, have revealed persistent problems at DSS.

Even after leadership changes in early 2013, Dalal found last month that case workers were closing cases without properly investigating them.

The Mayor said Hicks will report directly to him, and not to the Interim Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Stephen Harms.

The previous Interim Director at DSS, Vincent, reported to Harms.

“I`m not suggesting that anyone has failed...simply sending in necessary reinforcements to get the job done,” Jones said.

For one Richmond grandmother whose grandchild died in November of last year, the leadership change doesn’t go far enough.

“They need an outside person...somebody with no affiliation to Richmond at all with a clean eye that`s not going to be in his pocket,” Adrienne Sydnor said.

Sydnor tells CBS6 she still wonders why her 10-month-old granddaughter, Gionna Sydnor, was allowed to live in an apartment she described as unsafe for a child.

“Marijuana, crack pipes, open alcohol containers, trash,” Sydnor said.

Those conditions were verified in a document Sydnor showed us that she received from Richmond’s Department of Social Services.

Police found Gionna dead inside an apartment where she lived with her mother, Sydnor’s daughter, a month after Sydnor said she spoke to a caseworker from DSS.

“I don`t call just to call because I don`t like somebody, I call because I have a concern for kids,” Sydnor said.

Sydnor said that same document references the call she made to child protective services back in October because she worried about Gionna and her twin brother’s living environment.

Sydnor believe if DSS had taken action, her granddaughter would still be alive.

“If they had have done that they would have taken those kids, and Gigi would have been here for her first birthday,” Sydnor said.

No charges are known to have been filed in the Sydnor case yet.