Some child advocates say South Carolina’s child services agency needs to do a better job of placing children in foster care and deemphasizing its top priority focus on keeping families together.
During a state Senate hearing Monday, senators heard from complaints from several nonprofits and guardian ad litems over how the Department of Social Services handles child placement and foster homes.
“I’m asking you, please… this thing about reunification is not always a hundred percent,” Larry Mitchell, an Aiken guardian ad litem, told the committee. “Let’s go with the theme, ‘whatever is best for the kid.'” Guardian ad litems are court-appointed positions tasked with representing a child’s interests in custody legal fights.
The Rev. Randy Harling, who is president of Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in Greenwood, said the state needs to better analyze children in its care to determine which are best suited for adoption, which should be placed in single-family foster homes, and which could have an easier time in group homes. Mitchell and Harling also agreed that DSS caseworkers frequently don’t communicate with foster families and treat them as “warehouses,” while custody cases are decided.
“There’s a high demand on those families,” Harling said. “But if they’re treated like… you’re just supposed to warehouse this child, and we’ll call you whan we need you, that’s not quite enough for a caring parent.” He added that the state did not tell him the medical history of two boys he fostered, or any information about their custody case.
Mitchell added that he became “frustrated” with DSS stonewalling as he tried to get approval to remove the braces of one teen. “I’ll call DSS, they won’t return my phone call,” he said. “DSS does not return phone calls. “I think if I was to change one thing, I’d mandate that nobody leaves their office until every phone call is returned.”
The Senate general subcommittee has been looking into problems at DSS since January. Senators started this year by looking into children who had died from child abuse after DSS investigations, but eventually expanded that into other parts of the agency. Chairman Tom Young, R-Aiken, said he expects a final report before next year’s Senate session begins in January.