- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A Greenville woman told lawmakers Wednesday that Department of Social Services officials misinformed her family about the difficulties of adopting a teenage boy out of foster care, a situation she said has caused them immeasurable strain.

“Families are being pushed to adopt older children without being fully informed about the extent of the social needs and brokenness of these older children,” Winton Swanson testified before a special Senate subcommittee. “This has been a game changer for our family and has just about torn us apart.”

Swanson spoke to members of a Senate panel holding a series of hearings on the Department of Social Services. Chairman Tom Young, R-Aiken, said Wednesday that DSS director Lillian Koller would testify at a hearing April 16.

Swanson said one of her two biological children is hyperactive and has learning disabilities. Given that, Swanson said she and her husband told DSS they were willing to take on another child with challenges, filling out a questionnaire to that effect but receiving little other information from DSS.

They were matched with a 13-year-old boy who had been at a children’s home for five years and had failed twice to be adopted, Swanson said. While living in their home, Swanson said the boy shoplifted, stole from them, abused animals and hit another child.

“We would have never brought a child into our home with these types of issues, as we knew it could harm our family,” she said, describing “crippling” stress and guilt for how her other two children have been treated. “DSS continually told us that things would get better.”

The teen will be returning to a children’s home next month, Swanson said, saying DSS pushed the adoption.

“They only tell you what you want to hear,” Swanson said. “Not one time did anybody tell us, ‘He is not the right fit for your home.’”

After the hearing, Jessica Hanak-Coulter, DSS‘ deputy director for human services, told reporters she had no specifics on the Swanson case but said the agency does ongoing assessments during the adoption process.

“We want to make sure that the families are the right families,” she said.

Since February 2011, Hanak-Coulter said only four of DSS’ 1,855 adoptions have been reversed.

“Our children have been through a lot … so the desire to get them a forever family is what we need,” she said. “We do not rush into those decisions, ever.”

The panel also heard from Kathryn Martin, mother of a 3-month-old girl who died at an illegal in-home daycare.

“No, I’m not blaming DSS for Kellie Rynn’s death. But I am pushing for these laws to change,” said Martin, tearfully calling for stricter oversight. “How many children have to die in care?”

Martin’s infant suffocated last month at a Greenville daycare whose operator was caring for more than 20 children instead of the six for which she was registered. That provider, Pamela Wood, was charged with child neglect and obstruction after authorities investigating the death found a loaded gun and alcohol in areas accessible to children.

Martin told legislators she trusted the facility because she found it on DSS’ website. After the hearing, Leigh Bolick, DSS‘ director of child care services, told reporters the agency does what it can to ensure parents know some in-home facilities, like the one used by the Martins, aren’t inspected.

“Our hearts go out to those parents,” she said, noting that state law doesn’t require inspections of registered family child-care homes.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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