Another baby has died since the last SC Senate hearing on the safety of children in DSS care. A special legislative panel has been asking for information and questioning DSS Director Koller over the past two months.
Wednesday’s hearing lasted four hours and included the newest revelations of problems at the Richland County level.
After a medically fragile child died without being checked by DSS workers, Gov. Nikki Haley stepped in an implemented her own plan for the county, aided by Koller’s staff.
Senators homed in on the response to Richland County
Richland Democrat Joel Lourie asked Koller, “Why 10 months later is there a plan of action that should have happened at the very beginning when caseloads were surging and children, in my opinion, were being left in very vulnerable conditions? Why did it take 10 months,” he asked Koller.
She responded that the agency had already been working on Richland, a county she calls a “hot spot” for fluctuating and problematic caseloads
Koller said, “It’s not as if we waited to do anything.”
Lourie interuppted, “I disagree with that statement. It was just last week that the governor comes and said, ‘This is my plan to fix Richland’ and it was just last week that y’all brought in 20 more workers.”
Koller shot back: “Senator if you want to have a debate with the governor, go right ahead.”
Sen. Katrina Shealy, R- Lexington, later added her concerns about how helping Richland affects other overloaded county offices.
“I get calls from Pickens County and Laurens County and Lancaster County and Anderson County,” Shealy said. “What’s the answer to that? We can’t take people from other counties and move them to Richland County when those counties are struggling.”
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said the numbers he is seeing still don’t add up. The agency says the average number of caseloads is six, yet in months of testimony, present and former employees have said they handled more than 30 at a time.
“This is an issue we have heard repeatedly,” he challenged Koller.
AUDIO: Koller says averages are not the best way to measure fieldwork. Young responds. (1:25)
Director Koller said there is still much work to be done in Child Protective Services and defended DSS employees who have to respond to abuse reports – and the job they have to do.
“Assessment workers knocking on doors, without a gun, without pepper spray and without a bullet-proof vest and they are there to determine, because it was a report of abuse and neglect, whether or not… a child needs help in that house.”
Koller also asked for more help with technology and training.
Senate hearings looking into DSS will continue, beyond the end of the legislative session in two weeks.
The Legislative Audit Council, at the request of the Legislature is in the process of auditing DSS operations.