- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An audit of the Department of Social Services paints a portrait of an agency facing increasing caseloads and worker turnover while failing to ask for extra money and ignoring problems.

The Legislative Audit Council’s audit, released Friday, covers DSS and several other agencies that indirectly deal with child welfare.

Here are some of the audit’s main findings and what DSS and other agencies say they’re doing to improve.

DSS FAILS TO MONITOR CHILDREN PUT WITH RELATIVES

The audit says DSS does not take as many steps to protect children who are removed from their parents when they place them with relatives or other trusted caretakers as opposed to putting them in foster care.

The audit says DSS does not have a list of children in these arrangements. The agency also doesn’t keep data on rates of abuse and neglect of children in these circumstances but has detailed data on abuse among foster families.

The audit recommends keeping this data as well as holding Family Court oversight hearings that involve a court-appointed guardian for children and a treatment plan. Those hearings are always held in foster care cases.

INVESTIGATING CHILD DEATHS

By state law, all violent, unexpected and unexplained child deaths are supposed to be reported to the State Law Enforcement Division. But the audit that found 152 such cases went unreported from 2009 to 2013. In 104 of those cases, the coroner failed to notify SLED.

SLED has promised to cross-reference its child fatality list with the Department of Health and Environmental Control. SLED also has set up a uniform email address for coroners to report child deaths and will meet with all 46 coroners in the state to explain the importance of reporting.

PRIVATE HELP

DSS uses a private company to provide services to parents in low- and medium-risk abuse investigations. The audit says DSS needs to be careful with how it uses Community Based Prevention Services.

“The decision of DSS to use private contractors for case management in this program reduces face-to-face contact by the department with potential victims of abuse and neglect and may increase the risk that abuse and neglect will go undetected,” according to the audit.

OTHER FINDINGS FROM THE AUDIT

- The audit found there are no standards on maximum caseloads. In Aiken County, 92 percent of its caseworkers are handling more children than DSS’ standards. In similarly-sized Beaufort County, just 45 percent of caseworkers have excessive caseloads. DSS promises to spend $6.4 million to add 221 employees, including eight supervisors and 67 assistants. It also will share caseworkers across counties when possible.

- The audit suggests higher salaries for caseworkers and that the agency do a better job keeping track of turnover.

- The Department of Public Safety agreed to have its troopers report any traffic fatalities that may involve abuse, such as a parent drinking behind the wheel, as well as improve training on when it reports abuse to DSS. The audit found Public Safety officers reported just 13 of the 171 parents charged with child endangerment to DSS.

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