- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s embattled child welfare agency is endangering kids under its supervision by failing to provide them with basic health care and the right kind of attention, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

The suit faults a shortage of foster homes and excessive caseloads at the Department of Social Services.

Two advocacy groups - Children’s Rights and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center - and Columbia attorney Matthew Richardson are suing on behalf of nearly a dozen children in the care of South Carolina’s social services system. They are seeking class-action status on behalf of the thousands of children in the state’s system.

One 16-year-old girl, the lawsuit says, has been through at least a dozen placements in about eight years. That teen, according to the lawsuit, was told by a DSS caseworker that she was in a group facility because the agency doesn’t have enough foster homes. Other children were denied necessary therapy for months, abused by caretakers and kept from siblings also in the system, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite nearly three decades of repeated notice of dangers to children in DSS custody and multiple opportunities to improve the foster care system, Defendants have continued to ignore those dangers and operate DSS in a manner contrary to law and reasonable professional judgment in deliberate indifference to known harms and imminent risk of known harms to Plaintiff Children, so as to shock the conscience,” according to the lawsuit.

DSS issued a statement saying its workers are “completely dedicated and work hard every day to ensure that foster children receive the care that meets their individual needs.” The statement said the agency will fully evaluate the claims and respond in “the appropriate forum.”

In a written statement, Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said the governor “has been actively pursuing a new direction for the agency including hiring new case workers and human services specialists, enhanced training for those professionals and improving coordination with key stakeholders such as law enforcement, mental health and addiction professionals and families.”

The report echoed findings in an October Legislative Audit Council report, which said DSS relies heavily on unreliable data but has failed to ask for extra money and ignores growing problems. The audit also found that caseloads in the child welfare agency are excessive and that the agency also doesn’t do enough to ensure children in its care are placed in safe homes.

According to the lawsuit, South Carolina’s caseloads can be two or three times those of national and state standards, with some caseworkers having 60 or 70 children at a time.

The audit also found that DSS failed to properly investigate allegations of child abuse and the deaths of children in South Carolina. DSS said last fall it was aware of problems and welcomed any help it can get.

Criticism about exploding caseloads and inadequate child care has swirled around DSS for months. A bipartisan Senate panel has been investigating the agency’s problems for more than a year, holding hearings focusing on the deaths of several children, caseloads that climbed above 100 children for some workers and excessive turnover. Lawmakers have said they expect to release their findings this month.

Haley last month named Susan Alford to lead DSS. The announcement came six months after the departure of former Director Lillian Koller, who resigned amid bipartisan calls for her ousting. For years, Koller insisted she didn’t need additional money or manpower, but Haley has said that her 2015-16 budget proposal - which she planned to release later Monday - would include more resources for DSS.

___

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

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide