12 Investigates: Sources give details of DSS child deaths - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

12 Investigates: Sources give details of DSS child deaths

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

12 Investigates has uncovered more problems with Richmond's Department of Social Services in the heartbreaking stories of four babies, who've died in the city in just the last few months. Their families all had prior contact with Child Protective Services.

Social workers reached out because they say the situation for Richmond's children has gotten so bad and so dangerous. Those with decade's worth of experience tell us four deaths in this short period of time is too many and outside of the norm.

Since, these four lives taken far too soon involved families already on the system's radar, the state is investigating each one of them.

A tragic scene we told you about this past June had people wondering what went wrong. A mother was pulled off the roof of her burning Church Hill home, while her 18-month-old son was inside. Both later died. At the time, neighbors told us Ava Marcus had been acting erratically. Now, sources say Marcus had mental health issues and her case was referred to Child Protective Services, but nothing was ever done.

Then in November, one of a set of twins was found dead. Originally, investigators believed this was simply a co-sleeping death, but after further examination, sources tell NBC12 the mother acknowledged giving the child over-the-counter medications so she could have some peace. We're told CPS had already been involved in that home because of the poor living conditions. After the child's death, the other children were removed from the home, according to those familiar with the situation.

Three weeks later, children were removed from a different home after another baby died. The mother had a history with CPS and wasn't supposed to be unsupervised with her children, according to insiders, but, she walked to the hospital with the baby dead in a stroller.

After those two, the man brought in to clean up DSS says the agency looked into the circumstances.

"What lessons did we learn," Stephen Harms said they asked. "Are there key indicators that could help us better pinpoint where a serious injury or death could occur?"

But still, another tragedy struck less than two weeks ago. We're told the family had previous contact with the system, but at this point, they don't know the circumstances behind that child's death.

The state is in the process of evaluating these cases to see what was done and if there are issues that need to be addressed within the city agency. No word on when the assessments will be complete.

Harms said the agency is putting together revised procedures that they will consider using to better screen situations. The current program manager, who was investigated in the scathing DSS audit NBC12 was first to tell you about, is helping draft those standards.

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