VERONA – Nearly two thirds of the calls received last year by the local Social Services office dealt with the physical neglect of a child. That was the report delivered by the staff of the Shenandoah Valley Social Services office Wednesday, sharing information on child abuse and neglect, legal definitions and caseloads in the service area of Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County
The symposium was requested by Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles, who said “people need to know what to do” when confronted with reporting such incidents. He described Wednesday’s program as offering strong information, but said “it is a beginning not an end’’ in the fight to protect area children.
The Social Services staff offered data showing that nearly two thirds of the calls they received during the last fiscal year in child protective services involved reports of physical neglect of a child.
The category is a broad one involving inadequate food, shelter, clothing, supervision and hygiene.
Amber Martino, the supervisor of child protective services for Shenandoah Valley DSS, said the physical neglect can mean a parent has a substance abuse problem and that the child lacks the supervision to be safe. She investigated a case where a child was crossing Hopeman Parkway in Waynesboro on foot unsupervised, putting the child in danger.
Part of the responsibility for reporting child abuse or neglect falls to mandated reporters. Those include law enforcement, school personnel, medical and mental health professionals and probation officers.
James Glick, the counsel to Shenandoah Valley DSS, said the failure of a mandatory reporter to disclose an incident can result in a class 2 misdemeanor.
Glick also talked of the nuances of the law regarding abuse. He said DSS is not legally able to investigate the abuse of a child by a non-caretaker.
Staffing is a concern for the local DSS agency. But Director Anita Harris said as of mid-April, the agency would have a fully staffed child protective services unit.
Still, estimates are that local CPS workers have a caseload that can range from 30 to 50 at any time. And Martino pointed to the difficulties of covering a county like Augusta, where cases can be located from one end of the county to the other.
Juvenile and Domestics Relations Judge Anita Filson of the 25th Circuit, was in the audience for Wednesday’s presentation. Filson will become a circuit judge in July.
She told the Shenandoah Valley DSS staff that “I appreciate what you do.”
Filson said the community is much better off for the work of DSS personnel.
Bob Stuart is a reporter for the News Virginian. You may contact Bob at (540) 932-3562 firstname.lastname@example.org.