As of the first of April, more than 4,200 children were residing in our state’s child-welfare system. These children have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or trauma and are living in out-of-home care or with relatives.
But how much better is the care they are receiving?
A lawsuit against the Department of Social Services alleges “dangerous deficiencies” in the care and resources provided to these most vulnerable children. It highlights such challenges as a lack of foster homes, overworked caseworkers, failure to provide basic health evaluations and treatments and inaccurate data collection.
DSS has attempted to make policy changes to address these problems. Unfortunately, the changes have resulted in unfunded mandates to child-welfare providers. That is, the state has increased the requirements for children’s homes and foster-care providers without increasing the funding to provide those services.
Without resources to support these changes, the providers are challenged, and so progress has been slow.
According to federal monitors appointed by the court to track DSS’s progress in the aftermath of the Michelle H. lawsuit, critical services are not being provided to most children. Among the findings:
▪ Only 10 percent of children receive a health assessment within 30 days of entering state care.
▪ Only 6 percent of children and youth who have been removed from their homes receive a mental-health assessment within 30 days.
▪ Only 41 percent of sibling groups larger than two are placed together, and only 12 percent of those groups are able to visit with their biological families.
In the settlement agreement, issued more than two years ago, the court ordered DSS to hire additional caseworkers by 2020. But as of September, only 28 percent of foster-care caseworkers had caseloads that were not larger than the acceptable standard of 1-to-15.
These are precious lives. This is our future.
It is time to do more. We must make caring for our state’s abused, abandoned and neglected children a priority. We must bring more people into the discussion as we search for creative ideas and policy changes to improve the care of our state’s most vulnerable children and youth.
DSS continues to keep conversations with providers, partners and collaborators brief and limited. We need candor and robust change.
We are a community of care and must operate as partners and collaborators, not segmented factions stymied by bureaucracy. These are precious lives. This is our future.
The Palmetto Association for Children & Families stands ready to carry the conversation forward so we can make sure our system of care is continuously improving.
Our members are experts in the care of our children and can provide valuable insight to DSS and lawmakers as we explore ways to improve our child welfare system. We are poised to share our expertise with DSS and the Legislature and to help implement programs focused on improving services for the children and families in state care.
If we work together, our vision of a system of care that is fully resourced and provides for the needs of South Carolina’s children and families in crisis can become a reality.
Ms. Hall is CEO of the Palmetto Association for Children & Families; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.