Criticism for Lack of Punishment Over Child Abuse in Rockbridge County

May 24, 2017

Child welfare advocate Susan Lawrence of Rockbridge County has been battling local and state social services agencies for decades. she wants county and Lexington city leaders to force the current board of directors for Rockbridge DSS to resign for their failure to deal with the problems.
Credit Jessie Knadler

A long awaited report looking into Rockbridge area Department of Social Services was released this month. In it, a special grand jury uncovered “highly disturbing” practices may have played a role in the deaths and abuse of local children. But the report concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to establish probable cause to bring criminal charges. Some residents – including at least one DSS board member -- are left wondering, how? WMRA’s Jessie Knadler reports.

The board of directors for the embattled Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services held their first public meeting last week since the release of the damning report. In it, the special grand jury found the board’s hands-off approach part of the breakdown within the agency. Lexington resident Mark Reed, a 20-year social services veteran, got up and told the Board they should all resign. Child welfare advocate Susan Lawrence, who has battled Rockbridge and state social services agencies for decades, also got up and told the board she agrees.

Things got tense from there. Board member David Dax asked what purpose dissolving the current board would serve. Vicki Turner said she found Reed’s approach a little “threatening.”

But there was some consensus between the citizens and at least one board member. David Dax expressed incredulity over the notion that the special grand jury was unable to find probable cause essentially because state laws, as written, are inadequate.  This, despite sworn testimony that a supervisor created an atmosphere in which children were left in homes where known abuse was occurring, resulting in at least one death. Dax said he found this reasoning galling. Reed agreed.

MARK REED:   I felt it was incomplete, frankly. It raised more questions than it answered.

Still, he took issue with board members’ claim they were not even part of the Special Grand Jury’s investigation—why weren’t they called in for questioning?

REED:  They don’t need an invitation to contact the grand jury or the commonwealth’s attorney and say, I think you could benefit from my insight as a member of the board of directors for the Department of Social Services. 

Lawrence also has issues with the special grand jury’s report. 

SUSAN LAWRENCE:  They seemed angry and upset and frustrated that the ability to indict these people who are directly responsible for the deaths and sexual abuse of children in Rockbridge County – it couldn’t happen. This looks like a bit of a cop out. We want someone to be held accountable.

She is currently organizing a petition to demand the resignation of the board. She presented this information to county supervisors, who have a role in selecting board members, at their meeting Monday night.

LAWRENCE:  They still seem not to fully accept responsibility or comprehend or understand the seriousness of what’s going on and what needs to be done…. I think it’s time for ya’ll to step up and do your job with this. Everyone keeps waiting for someone else to do something, but please I’m asking you to do something now.  Thank you.

New DSS Director Suzanne Adcock says she’s developing a plan based on the grand jury’s recommendations for improvements to the agency.