A Strasburg couple is suing the Shenandoah County of Social Services for $8,000,000 for failing to inform them of their adoptive son’s history of abuse.
“$8,000,000? That’s a drop in the bucket for 35 different foster kids going through this home, the terror this kid created and the reports they made to DSS over and over and over again,” said the couple’s attorney Nancie Williams. “And nobody’s doing anything about it. And the entire ten years, they knew the whole time.”
Anna Long sits at her kitchen table recalling the days before she and her husband, Greg, moved to her family farm in Strasburg, Va.
She says she and her husband knew they wanted to be foster parents in order to give children a sense of safety and positivity, even if just for weekend, respite stays.
“We tried to fill them with, you know, ‘this is how you cook, this is how you clean, this is what you do, this is how life is supposed to be,” Long said. “Just so even if they leave and they go back, they get a little bit of that positive in their life.”
When the Longs first brought their now-adopted son, Mason, and his biological sister to their home in 2009, things were good. But before long, Mason began acting out.
He was angry, Long says, recalling times when Mason, then 9, would bang his head against the wall repeatedly. He was mean to the other kids, pushing them when Long wasn’t looking.
“He was really good at hiding stuff,” said Long.
Mason was harsh with pets and struggled to take care of basic hygiene, often soiling himself.
Long says in 2011, she and her husband were shopping at Target when she got a call from the Shenandoah County Social Services Department asking whether they wanted to formally adopt Mason and his sister.
Despite the issues they had already seen, she was overjoyed.
“I was like ‘Oh my gosh yes!’ Greg and I started hugging, we were so excited,” said Long, tearing up. “It was a great ceremony, we had a blast.”
But at home, Mason’s behavior continued to deteriorate despite mentoring and therapy.
Long says she and her husband were notified by DSS in the spring of 2015 that the Department was investigating allegations of an incident involving Mason and another boy around the time of 2010 to 2011, during the time the boys were being fostered by the Longs.
However, Long says she couldn’t get many details from DSS on the incident. As a result, Long decided to call the mother of the other child involved.
“Her and I went and sat. And she said, ‘Well I don’t know what to tell you, I can just tell you that my child always seemed like a victim,'” Long said. Still, she says she did not have any idea of what exactly Mason had done.
She and her husband decided to separate Mason from the other children in the house as a precaution. Long says DSS still did not disclose any information about Mason’s history to them.
Later that year, a neighbor caught Mason acting inappropriately with one of the neighbor’s horses. Long says at first, the neighbor didn’t tell her what he had seen because he couldn’t believe the boy would sexually abuse an animal.
When the neighbor did inform the family, Long says they got rid of their own farm animals, which they kept for therapeutic purposes for another one of their children. They also bought security cameras for their house to keep an eye on Mason and the other kids.
All the while, according to Long, she had been in contact with Mason’s social worker at DSS, but was reassured that this behavior was normal for a child coping with trauma.
But eventually the Longs became aware the scope of the problem extended beyond Mason’s abuse of animals.
A residential program Mason was at had performed a polygraph on him, during which Mason admitted to abusing other children who lived at the home.
When the Longs learned Mason would be leaving the program and returning to the home, they contacted the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the admissions Mason made in the program about abusing the children.
“It wasn’t until a Shenandoah Sheriff’s Office [Deputy] came to our house and told us there were accusations prior to our adoption, and [DSS] knew that he had raped another child and molested another child,” then Long says she became fully aware of Mason’s history.
Mason was eventually charged and convicted on four counts of aggravated sexual battery against the children. He’s currently incarcerated by the Department of Juvenile Justice in Richmond, Va.
According to Williams, the Department is required under Virginia law to inform adoptive parents of their children’s health records.
“They have to give you a disclosure of all of his medical, mental health, psychological records, I mean, down to childhood immunizations, so where are those?” said Williams.
The Longs say the never received the records for Mason, or any of their other adopted children, which according to Williams, is a felony.
“They’re mandated to tell them, and in fact swear under oath to report that they did in fact, disclose everything to them,” Williams said. “Had they been given that […] at a minimum, this child could’ve gotten the help that he needed in the beginning. And his outcome would’ve been outrageously different.”
The director of the Shenandoah County DSS office, Carla Taylor, responded to WDVM 25 when reached by email Tuesday. She wrote that the department was served the suit Monday afternoon and it has begun an internal review as of Tuesday morning. No further information was provided by Tuesday evening.
Despite everything the family has been through, Long says she loves her son.
“I try to support him in every way I can,” she said. “He’s my son. But it’s so hard. […] We want to make sure he doesn’t have the chance to hurt somebody else.”
The Longs filed their suit Monday, and Williams says despite the high number, the family is hoping for real change.
“Who is held accountable for not doing what the Virginia law requires them to do?” asked Williams. “Something needs to be done about it.