The interim director of South Carolina’s embattled child services agency says she is hiring more caseworkers while at the same time trying to centralize the initial handling of abuse or neglect cases.
But acting Department of Social Services director Amber Gillum informed a state Senate oversight panel Thursday that her agency is still struggling with high turnover.
Gillum said DSS had hired 250 new caseworkers and supervisors since this summer, but also had 139 employees leave during that time. That left a net increase of 111 employees, she told senators.
“I wish it was more, but I think we’re making progress,” she said. “We’re going to get there. It’s just going to take us a little bit of time to get all of those folks… fully trained and able to take on full caseloads.” Gilum said it would take some time to properly train the new hires.
The agency had told senators back in September it would need to hire 202 new employees to get its caseloads in line. DSS has been under fire from lawmakers and child advocates since January after Senate investigators found overworked employees were missing red flags and not following up in cases that eventually led to child deaths from abuse or neglect. Previous DSS Director Lillian Koller resigned in June. Gov. Nikki Haley has said she is still searching for a full-time candidate to replace Koller.
Gillum also revealed Thursday that DSS is setting up a new hotline to handle incoming abuse reports. Calls to the hotline would be handled at one of six regional offices, she told the Senate panel. Currently, a person must call their local DSS office in each of the state’s 46 counties. She hoped the regional hub system will help improve how investigators handle the initial reports of abuse.
Senators said they were still concerned about high turnover at DSS, but said it appeared the agency was heading in the right direction.
“I kind of get this gut (feeling) that we are slowly turning the corner,” State Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat and admitted critic of DSS, told Gillum, “I think we were at rock-bottom… It took admitting and conceding that things were not good and that we had one hell of a problem to deal with.”