The director of South Carolina’s child welfare agency has announced her retirement later this month, after four years of struggling to solve caseworker backlogs.
Department of Social Services director Susan Alford plans to leave her position on July 16, according to a release from the agency on Monday. Alford was appointed to the job by then-Gov. Nikki Haley in December 2014, after her predecessor stepped down amid reports of overworked child caseworkers and a lack of communication and follow-up in the agency’s child protection division which may have caused some children to die from abuse and neglect.
“It has been an honor to serve children, victims and adults over the past 40 years and particularly in my recent years at SCDSS,” Alford said in a statement, expressing optimism her time had laid the groundwork for future leaders. “The reform of our child welfare system, and our system for serving vulnerable adults in SC, is a marathon, not a sprint. While the decision to retire was difficult, it is rewarding to know I have finished my leg of the race.”
Alford’s tenure at the agency were highlighted by major reform efforts to improve abuse reporting and staff turnover. Alford, who came to the agency after heading Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute, worked to centralize individual county offices into regional ones to improve efficiency at handling new child abuse and neglect reports. She also helped the agency settle a class-action lawsuit meant to increase foster home use and decrease reliance on keeping teens in hotel rooms or offices.
However, her agency continued to struggle with recruiting and keeping child caseworkers, leading to the organization Children’s Rights to warn last year DSS needed to hire more than 600 new employees to meet the settlement’s requirement of only 15 children per caseworker.
“Ms. Alford has led the Department of Social Services with a true servant’s heart and with a passion that made its way throughout the entire agency as she and her team worked tirelessly to help the vulnerable children and adults in South Carolina,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “We are sorry that her time at the agency has come to an end, but must congratulate her on her retirement and her 40 years of dedicated service to the people of our great state and thank her on behalf of the countless South Carolinians who have been impacted by that service.”
Current DSS Chief of Staff Joan Meacham will serve as acting director after July 16.