Politics & Government

SC having hard time keeping caseworkers as abuse, neglect caseloads grow

S.C. Department of Social Services director Susan Alford told House lawmakers Wednesday the agency is in need of more money to hire more caseworkers, which would help DSS keep in line with a 2015 class action lawsuit.
S.C. Department of Social Services director Susan Alford told House lawmakers Wednesday the agency is in need of more money to hire more caseworkers, which would help DSS keep in line with a 2015 class action lawsuit. File

More and more child abuse and neglect cases are being reported in South Carolina.

And many of those cases are in Richland County, Social Services Director Susan Alford told a state Senate panel Wednesday.

The state Department of Social Services has recorded a 68 percent increase in the number of cases that it has accepted since re-establishing hubs to take reports of abuse and neglect.

“This has, obviously, had a dramatic impact on us,” Alford told senators.

Alford is asking the General Assembly to approve her agency’s request for nearly $51 million in added money in the state budget that starts July 1, primarily to hire more than 250 caseworkers to help overworked staffers.

“We can give you money (to hire new caseworkers),” responded state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington. “But we’ve given you the money year after year, and we can’t hire the ones that we’ve given you the money for two years ago.

“That money is still sitting back there that we gave you to hire caseworkers two years ago, and we haven’t hired those caseworkers. That’s why these numbers are like they are.”

Alford said Social Services is able to hire caseworkers. But, she added, “We’re having trouble keeping them.”

Social Services is charged with protecting children under 18 years old from abuse and neglect. However, for years, a shortage of caseworkers has crippled the agency, which has been under scrutiny by the General Assembly for failing to properly oversee children in its charge who later died.

Alford said the rise in cases is having a “dramatic” effect on her agency’s ability to keep its often-overworked caseworkers. Almost 8 percent of those positions now are vacant, and, Alford said, about 9 percent of the agency’s caseworkers are handling 50 or more cases, roughly twice the recommended number.

Alford told senators she suspects part of the problem in Richland County is high turnover in Social Services’ county operation, which is without a permanent director. Horry and Greenville counties are reporting high numbers of cases, too.

Richland has been an issue “for a long time,” she said.

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter

Social Services in need

The S.C. Department of Social Services told lawmakers Wednesday it needs more than $50 million in added money to hire more caseworkers. High caseloads and inadequate supervision have contributed to high turnover rates within the agency, state senators were told.

4,052: The current workforce at Social Services; 1,574 work in the agency’s Child Welfare Division

7.9%: The vacancy rate in the Child Welfare Division. That number does not include new positions allocated in this fiscal year but not yet filled.

30.3%: The turnover rate among Social Services workers in 2016

41.1%: The turnover rate among those workers in 2014

9%: The number of Social Services’ caseworkers who were responsible for 50 or more cases each as of January; that’s roughly twice the recommended level

SOURCE: S.C. Department of Social Services

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