- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Department of Social Services is hiring 20 caseworkers to improve child-welfare services in Richland County, Gov. Nikki Haley’s office said Tuesday. The plan’s release follows questions surrounding children’s deaths.

Haley’s office said 20 caseworkers are being redirected from 11 other counties until the new employees can be hired and trained over the next five months. The transfers join 10 other employees redirected to Richland County over the past year.

The administration’s initiative includes reducing social workers’ caseloads and creating a second shift in Richland County, as well as hiring someone to coordinate with local law enforcement, the coroner’s office and children’s court advocates. Embattled Director Lillian Koller asked senators last month for permission to hire 50 people. Her request came amid Senate hearings about potential problems at the agency. Those hires require no additional money, according to Haley’s office.

Sen. Joel Lourie, a panel member, said the problems aren’t limited to Richland County. He continued to call for Koller’s ouster.

Others who have called for her removal include Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy, who’s also on the panel; Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat running against Haley in November; and Tom Ervin, who plans to be on the ballot as a petition candidate. Haley has repeatedly backed Koller.

Lourie called Tuesday’s announcement “a Band-Aid for a chest wound.”

“Her response should be to remove the director and work with the Legislature to overhaul the agency,” said Lourie, D-Columbia. “Where have you been, governor? Since her State of the State address, all we’ve heard from Gov. Haley is that DSS is in good shape and its director is a ‘rock star’.”

Two cases that drew Senate concern involve deaths in Richland County, most recently that of a 5-month-old who died last month after a medical worker notified the agency of her concerns about the child. The agency said the transient family couldn’t be found despite repeated attempts. But Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said social workers waited weeks before contacting the medical professional.

Last summer, a 4-year-old Richland County boy was beaten to death after being returned to his parents from foster care. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts has testified that potential abuse to Robert Guinyard or his older siblings was reported to DSS 15 times between 2006 and 2013, and that seven of those reports were about Robert specifically.

After that meeting, agency officials acknowledged mistakes in the boy’s case but said the agency overall is moving in the right direction.

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