“Our children are getting sicker and our resources are depleting.”
That statement by from Three Rivers Behavioral Health’s Executive Director Shannon Marcus summed up much of the testimony given to a panel of South Carolina legislators, state officials, and citizens Tuesday.
The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children held the second of its three statewide hearings in a packed room in Columbia. The committee was revived in 2010 after nearly 20 years of inactivity. It released its first report last February. That report highlighted the problems in a state where nearly half of the 1 million children under eighteen live in some level of poverty.
Tuesday’s testimony covered a wide variety of issues, but foster care popped up most frequently. The panel’s members did not say much, spending most of the three-hour hearing listening to dozens of social workers, teachers, and concerned parents.
The challenges facing South Carolina were depicted vividly.
“One of the tragedies of child welfare is (that) there is very little empirically sound research about what works and what does not work,” Epworth Children’s Home Director Rev. James Holler told the committee, “There are a lot of things we believe and a lot of things we feel, and in the childcare world, we act mainly on what we believe and what we feel.”
Marcus also said the South Carolina Department of Social Services she believes the state needs to treat each child on an individual basis, rather than following a template. “Children must fail their way up (in the current system),” she told the panel, “We start often with the lowest level of care, which is often the cheapest, hoping to get it right… Then we continuously move up each level until we finally decide to give them the treatment they need and deserve.”
DSS is currently seeking input on its plans to reform the state’s child welfare services through several Requests for Proposals (RFP). However, the agency has not yet publicly said what it is looking to do.
Allen Carter of Richland County DSS said the numbers in Richland County alone are the highest they’ve ever been. In 2007, Carter said there were 14,666 households receiving food stamps in the county. By last May, that number had ballooned to 28,650 households.
The committee also plans to be at the Greenville County Council chambers on Thursday at 5:30 pm.