Richmond SCAN director begins 6 month stint to help fix DSS

Posted at 12:57 AM, Apr 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-02 00:57:52-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--The woman in charge of a local child welfare nonprofit is now helping the city fix its troubled Department of Social Services.

Jeanine Harper, executive director of Greater Richmond Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), began a six-month stint working with the DSS on Monday.

Harper is on loan from SCAN and will commit 32 hours a week to DSS during the next six months. The city will give SCAN $49,000 to compensate for her time, Harper said.

This is the lastest development on a story WTVR has been investigating for more than a year. CBS 6 was the first to tell you about multiple cases where vulnerable Richmond children have been left in abusive homes.

A Richmond grandmother says one of those children was her granddaughter.

Ten-month-old Gionna Sydnor died in November after Child Protective Services did not respond to calls from her grandmother, Adrienne Sydnor, who said she was worried about little Gigi's living environment.

Sydnor believes if DDS had taken action, her granddaughter would still be alive, she said. All she wants is closure, Sydnor said, but the investigation is still open.

"Someone needs to be held responsible for Gigi's death," she said. Five months later, Sydnor is still waiting for the toxicology results. She asked for answers so that she could finally rest.

As Sydnor waits for answers, DSS leaders have taken action to improve the well-being of Richmond's at-risk children.

Harper's background at SCAN answers Sydnor's prior concern that the DSS had not been putting people with a background in child welfare in charge. Harper said her emphasis is on the well-being of children.

When asked about any red flags regarding DSS, Harper said that through her work at SCAN, she has been aware of times when there could have been a better outcome for the children than what was going on.

But she affirmed that she is confident in the work DSS is doing.

"There's an urgency in looking at what we can do to make sure no child is hurt," she said.

That sense of urgency is something Sydnor says she never felt DSS had for Gigi, and she hopes leaders like Harper will remember cases like her "G."

"You have to face the past to look forward to the future," Sydnor said.

No charges have been filed in Gionna Sydnor's case.

Police tell CBS 6 that they are still waiting for the toxicology report.