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Foster parents wanted, says SC child-welfare chief

Wanted in SC: More foster homes

SC Department of Social Services Dir. Susan Alford discusses a shortage of foster homes.
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SC Department of Social Services Dir. Susan Alford discusses a shortage of foster homes.

South Carolina’s shortage of foster homes means more children are placed in group homes than is ideal, forcing some to sleep overnight in hotels and county offices, including in Richland County, the state’s child-welfare director said Monday.

The state has 1,224 regular foster homes and 1,079 for special-needs children.

But the state needs 1,580 more foster homes, including 119 for children with special needs, state Social Services director Susan Alford told a panel of state senators Monday.

Chaired by state Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, the panel is tasked with providing oversight of Social Services as Alford, its new director, makes changes she says will improve the agency’s child-welfare services.

The agency fell under heavy scrutiny last year after reports of children dying while in the agency’s care.

2,303 Foster homes across the state

1,580 Additional foster homes needed

Lawmakers wanted to know Monday why children were staying overnight in hotels or county offices.

Alford said six counties — Richland, Lexington, Kershaw, Anderson, Beaufort and Greenwood — have had to house children temporarily in hotels or at the local Social Services office.

The lack of foster homes is the “biggest driver to that process,” she said.

“Usually it’s only one night, until they can find a placement the next day,” she said. “But any situation in which that happens is something of great concern to us.”

Placing children in hotels (or) placing children in county offices is never something that we want to do, but we do have circumstances in which that happens.

– Social Services Director Susan Alford, on children taken into state custody staying overnight when caseworkers cannot place them in homes

Alford said the shortage of foster homes also is why nearly a quarter of the children under age 13 who entered the state’s child-welfare system in 2013 were placed in group homes or other institutions, as reported recently by The Post and Courier of Charleston.

That percentage is far higher than the 4 percent national average, the paper noted.

Alford said recruiting more foster parents is a priority for the agency. In her six months at the agency, Alford said she has worked to shorten the process of recruiting foster families. What once took nine months now is taking about 120 days, she said.

About 200-300 families, she added, are “in the queue” to become foster homes.

Social Services offices in six counties – including Kershaw, Lexington and Richland – have housed children taken into state custody in hotels or county offices recently because they could not find a foster home to place them in.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658