Embattled DSS head to testify Wednesday

04/15/2014 8:40 PM

04/15/2014 8:41 PM

After months of hearings, state Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller will testify Wednesday before a S.C. Senate panel investigating that agency.

The bipartisan panel has heard from child-welfare advocates, former agency employees and coroners who have said the agency has missed cases of abuse and neglect that, in some cases, led to children dying.

Koller had a stroke in December and had been under doctor’s orders previously not to testify until her health improves. However, her spokesman said Tuesday that she will testify Wednesday.

Koller will testify as legislative efforts are under way to make the agency more transparent, allowing Social Services to release information about alleged child-abuse cases that the agency decided not to investigate when the children affected die.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, the Democratic candidate for governor, said Tuesday he would offer a series of proposals aimed at improving the embattled child-welfare agency. Sheheen, who has called for Koller’s dismissal, wants more state money for Social Services.

He also would double the size of the S.C. Law Enforcement Division’s special victims unit, improve and increase training for Social Services staff, and expand programs for foster children, including mentoring for children aging out of foster care. Sheheen said he plans to introduce a bill that would create whistle-blower protections for Social Services employees who report problems within the agency.

However, legislation not already introduced is unlikely to pass this year.

Sheheen has called for Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, his opponent in November, to dismiss Koller. But the first-term Republican governor from Lexington has defended the agency’s director, saying, under her leadership, adoptions have increased and child fatalities have dropped at the agency.

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