Richmonders hope it's a new day at the city's scandal-plagued department of social services. Monday, the mayor's Senior Policy Advisor, David Hicks, was named as the interim head of the agency, which is supposed to protect the city's most vulnerable.
Mayor Dwight Jones adamantly maintains he's naming one of the people highest in his administration to take on DSS to find out exactly what's going on and why the agency can't seem to solve problems that continually put children in danger.
At a press conference Monday, Mayor Dwight Jones spoke bluntly.
"What's apparent to me is that we are still not doing the best job with respect to protecting the safety of vulnerable children and this is unacceptable to me," he said.
A recent investigation showed despite a leadership change, problems at social services have not changed. According to an audit, children are paying the price with cases being closed and complaints never making it to those new leaders.
Sources say that's because anytime child protective services case workers expose problems, managers take retribution on them. After breaking this story Monday, only NBC12 brought that issue to the new man in charge to find out how the environment will change under his leadership.
"We're talking about individuals who are on the frontline of dealing with our most vulnerable children," David Hicks responded. "There's a degree of professionalism and respect they have to be afforded and an environment has to be created and nurtured in which they know that that's reciprocal."
That new setting also includes a new reporting structure. Hicks will go directly to the mayor, instead of to another manager. We asked Mayor Jones why he is changing that.
"I say that to say that this has my complete attention," he reacted. When we inquired if this was different from the past, the mayor said, "Well, the attention that I'm putting on it now is different."
The city has been looking for a permanent DSS leader for almost a year and has come up empty. Hicks is only serving on an interim basis, as a fixer of sorts.
"You always want to see permanency in these situations, however, the problems at social services run so deep that we need solutions more than any one specific person," City Council President Charles Samuels reacted.
Some insiders are skeptical of the appointment because Hicks does not have a social work background. The expectations are high and Samuels says city council expects regular progress reports on what's changing.
Hicks was given a similar role when the city's juvenile detention center was almost shut down by the state. Since then, new staff has been hired and it has been re-certified by authorities.
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