The South Carolina Department of Social Services has been under scrutiny in ongoing Senate hearings. The three senators on the specially appointed panel are investigating the safety of children in DSS care, after 76 deaths in one year. Agency officials explain that the number is down, subcommittee chairman Tom Young, R-Aiken, says that one dead child is too many.
The lawmakers have now heard a litany of complaints from former employees, coroners and parents — along with rebuttals from senior staff. The agency’s director is schedule to appear in a hearing on April 16. Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, is calling for Director Lillian Koller to step down.
In the midst of this drama, Sen. Young has focused on statutory changes that he can make this session.
“There has been testimony about problems that have arisen in the last two or three years. There has also been testimony about problems existing in the agency going back to the early 1990’s. There is no question that there is room for improvement and it’s absolutely imperative on us as a General Assembly to act on these issues quickly,” Young told South Carolina Radio Network.
Young has already introduced S. 1163, working with an attorney in the governor’s office, to allow DSS to share records of “unfounded” or unproven claims with a legislative inquiry. This measure is in a Senate subcommittee Wednesday. If passed this session, it would have an immediate effect on DSS oversight.
Other issues he has identified for legislation or review:
– Reporting requirements for coroners need to be made consistent across the state. Coroners and the State Law Enforcement Division told the panel that coroner compliance was part of the problem with tracking child death cases.
-Strengthen state oversight for in-home daycare facilities, including licensing and registration requirements. Lawmakers heard of a DSS listed, but not licensed Upstate daycare that had pending complaints, but was still taking children. A three-year-old suffocated at the facility this year.
-Review the Legislative Audit Council study of DSS done in 2006. “Any recommendations made in 2006 have been acted upon and if they have not I want to make sure we follow up on that as well,” Young said.
Young said that there will be more to do in the next legislative session, too. He has about two weeks to get measures through the General Assembly this year and vows to work on new measures over the summer and fall to get those into place.
The other answers he seeks come from Director Koller herself, when she appears before the panel on April 16.
“There is just no question that we’ve heard some troubling testimony in the first four hearings and the testimony that we expect to hear from the director is eagerly anticipated.”