THE ALLEGATION that the S.C. Department of Social Services placed a teenage girl in the care of a 42-year-old male neighbor who repeatedly raped her is extremely disturbing. If it is true, it’s an unforgivable outrage.
Presumably, DSS had determined that the girl was in peril if left in her parents’ home. But once the agency took her into custody, it became the state’s responsibility to place her in a safe, nurturing temporary environment that didn’t further threaten the child’s well being. That’s not what is alleged to have happened.
The girl’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit that accuses DSS of negligence in placing the girl with a man who wasn't a relative and had not been certified by the state as a foster parent. The lawsuit says the girl was 13 when she was removed from her family's Georgetown County home in June 2011 after an abuse allegation.
According to the suit, Social Services workers didn’t attempt to place the girl with a relative or someone who had been certified as a foster parent; instead she was sent to live with a 42-year-old male neighbor.
The core question isn’t whether this man was certified as a foster parent or whether DSS inspected his home or did a background check — or even if he had a criminal history. There is one overarching question DSS must answer: Does agency policy allow a girl to be placed in the care of a man?
If such an outlandish policy exists, it must be discarded immediately. And if the teen was placed in this home counter to agency policy, DSS officials should acknowledge that someone monumentally erred; and it would be our expectation that that person and anyone else who signed off on such an arrangement have long been fired.
While we understand a lawsuit is pending, this is no time for DSS to be silent, given the plummeting confidence in the agency’s ability to carry out its mission. DSS is undergoing an intense review by a Senate subcommittee, and a recent Legislative Audit Council report suggests that it is incapable of providing consistent, reliable, credible protection of our state’s endangered children.
The child-welfare agency owes it to the public to answer the overriding policy question of whether it is possible for a child to be placed in the manner that is being alleged. This is no time for a coverup — or the appearance of one. Whatever the circumstances, DSS must come clean. It would be far better for the agency to acknowledge a clear wrong rather than stubbornly fight a losing legal battle that wastes taxpayer dollars and further erodes the public trust.
Obviously, there is a lot we don’t know about this case, including the details of the alleged abuse at the parents’ home. But what is so troubling is that DSS is once again charged with failing to look out for the best interests of a child and — at least at this point — it doesn’t have any explanation for it. That’s inexcusable.