Carolyn Graham's downfall came swiftly. After a swirling controversy emerged over the city's handling of allegations of child abuse, the former deputy chief administrative officer for human services officially resigned early last week.
But the narrative may have been a bit misleading. The dramatic decrease in the number of foster care cases in the city and at least one instance of alleged abuse — first reported by WTVR Channel 6 — came with a veil of anonymity.
The most egregious case, according to initial reports, involved an allegedly malnourished 2-year-old who was repeatedly taken to the emergency room of a local hospital. The city's Social Services Department failed to intervene. An emergency room doctor contacted City Councilman Chris Hilbert, who publicly decried the incident. Graham lost her job, and the director of the department, Gayle Turner, was placed on administrative leave pending a wide-ranging investigation.
But the mother of the 2-year-old, who spoke to Style Weekly on the condition of anonymity, says she wasn't starving her child. Her son was born with malfunctioning kidneys, and eats with a feeding tube. Her son, she says, had a spell where he was rejecting the formula doctors sent her home with. A mother of four, she lives in Creighton Court and has never had issues with child protective services, she says.
"I would never try to harm my child," she says, producing a printout of her son's vital statistics after a morning doctor's visit. His weight is back up. from 23 pounds seven days earlier to 24.4 pounds earlier in the day.
"It's terrifying when they tell you are going to lose your child," she says. "I was afraid to take my child to the doctor."
The confusion, Graham says, is that some people are mistaking the decrease in foster care numbers with a lack of care. "I am a big proponent of children being kept in their birth homes," she told Style in an interview Dec. 7. "If we can support these families with the same resources we would give foster families, the outcomes would be better."
There are other allegations, of course. Primarily, an anonymous one regarding the declining foster care cases, and allegations that Graham made racially charged comments regarding white families adopting poor, black children. She says she did nothing of the kind. And, of course, the previous management and safety issues that led to the closure of Richmond Juvenile Detention Center — that facility was under Graham's dominion — earlier this year. But child abuse? So far, the evidence of child abuse is lacking.
The child who was sent to the ER 20 times? Not really, says the mother. She claims she only went to the emergency room twice, and her primary physician didn't go along with another doctor's insistence that the child be removed from her care.
"It wasn't physical abuse," Graham explains. "The child had a congenital disorder."