Tayshun “Tae” Swearington was killed just days before his third birthday in 2013. Tae was abused, neglected and, ultimately, beaten to death. The tragic irony in this case is that two weeks earlier a close family acquaintance had reported suspected abuse, including bruises, to the Lexington County office of the S.C. Department of Social Services. The plea for help went unanswered.
Abuse and neglect of children is abhorrent. When it is preventable and occurs under the eyes of the state, it is intolerable. We must embrace every opportunity to improve and reform those individual state agencies with a history of such failures, most notably the Department of Social Services. Where needed, we also have to create innovative solutions that can immediately respond to and correct problems on a case-by-case basis.
Sen. Katrina Shealy has led the charge for children in both areas. Her latest bill (S.805) establishes the Department of Children’s Advocacy. Currently, we have too many “silos of excellence” that don’t talk to one another. We have to fix a system that allows some kids to get lost in the cracks.
The Department of Children’s Advocacy will be designed and equipped to cut through bureaucratic red tape when the system fails. Most of all, it will operate independently of individual child welfare agencies, and it will have the ability to work aggressively to protect vulnerable children instead of institutional interests.
I don’t take the creation of a new government office lightly, no matter how small it may be. But protecting the unprotected is a core function of government, and we should bear that obligation responsibly.
This department will consolidate existing positions within state government so that we can receive and investigate reports of failures in any state agency that cares for children at no additional cost to taxpayers. It will have a narrow mandate in order to ensure that it remains focused on making sure state child protection agencies do their job.
Sending Tae’s killer to jail for life didn’t bring back that innocent toddler, and on its own, it did nothing to prevent future tragedies. I cannot be absolutely certain a Department of Children’s Advocacy would have saved Tae’s young life, but I know from the success of similar departments in other states that it would have, at a minimum, found actionable reforms that could have been implemented to prevent similar horrors in the future.
Sadly, government programs for children sometimes fail to protect those they were created to serve, but if created, the Department of Children’s Advocacy will serve as an important safeguard.
I am proud to be working with Rep. Bruce Bannister to carry Senator Shealy’s bill through the House, where it could come up for debate on Tueday, and then on to Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature. I am hopeful that we can pass this badly needed legislation and move one step closer to improving the lives of vulnerable children.
Last year, there were 17,000 cases of child abuse and neglect across South Carolina. This bill says to each of them: We have heard you, and we are doing something about it.
Rep. Caskey is a West Columbia attorney; contact him at MicahCaskey@schouse.gov.