Here’s a story where America’s fraying social fabric intersects with near-criminal bureaucratic indifference. For context, read about the social breakdown of white America as described by sociologist Charles Murray in “Falling Apart.”
After seven months of investigation, a special grand jury has found dysfunction and incompetence “from top to bottom” at the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services, reports the Roanoke Times.
“Don’t write up reports,” a child-welfare supervisor, who went unnamed in the article, allegedly said. “It takes a lot of work for us to enter that into the system and get it taken care of.”
Despite evidence that the supervisor had shredded call reports to lighten the work load, the grand jury concluded there were no grounds for criminal prosecution. Still, the investigation found that problems extended beyond one bad supervisor, the Times says:
Board members, supervisors and staffers all contributed to a breakdown in the department’s Child Protective Services Unit, which “failed in its primary mission to our community, that of protecting the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable population: The children of the Rockbridge/Lexington/Buena Vista area,” the report stated.
The supervisor, who was fired during an internal social services review, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself more than 60 times during the grand jury proceedings.
An earlier article in the Roanoke Times described one especially atrocious case of neglect and abuse uncovered in Rockbridge County.
In 2015, Rockbridge County Deputy R.T. McCullough pulled his patrol car into a mobile home park to check a report about two girls, ages 3 and 8. As he approached the home, he was struck by the stench of urine and the sight of cockroaches crawling over the front porch and screen door. Inside, he found thousands of the bugs covering over the walls and furniture — and a three-year-old girl who sat crying at the kitchen counter.
Under questioning the girls revealed that they had been sexually abused by one Robert E. Clark. (It’s not clear from the article what Clark’s relationship to the girls was.) The Times continues:
The 8-year-old confided to her foster mother and a counselor that over a four-month period in 2015, Clark repeatedly raped and molested her and her 3-year old sister, forced them to have sex with one another and beat them with a belt while they were naked.
Clark’s sister, Samantha K. Simmons, is charged with sexually abusing two young boys in a junked Ford van that sat nearby.
The desecration of children is not a new phenomenon in our society. And a scandal in one Virginia county hardly constitutes proof of a growing problem. Indeed, a 2012 New York Times article indicated that child sexual abuse had plummeted 60% between 1992 and and 2010. The reasons for the decline were not clear, although the article pointed to a number of possible factors, such as greater public awareness, stepped-up prevention efforts, better training and education, specialized policing, and the presence in many cities of child advocacy centers.
While it’s possible that such practices have driven down the incidence of child abuse, I fear that the ongoing social disintegration of the poor and working class — chronic under-employment and under-employment, out-of-wedlock births, non-paternal boyfriends moving in with mothers and their children, substance abuse, and related behaviors — are creating the conditions for endemic child abuse. I expect that more recent statistics than those quoted in the NY Times would show that the incidence of child abuse is getting worse, not better.
That assumes, of course, that the statistics are trustworthy. If Rockbridge County social welfare workers were shredding call reports, who knows if their counterparts were doing the same thing elsewhere. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to believe.