“Too Little Has Changed” for Children and Families Served by South Carolina Child Welfare System, Latest Report Finds

A “system driven by crisis” requiring urgent work to meet improvements for children in the state’s care

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, dkessel@childrensrights.org

(Charleston, S.C.) — Independent, court-appointed monitors filed their second report on South Carolina’s efforts to reform its foster care system, finding that the Department of Social Services (DSS) has not made sufficient progress in many critical areas.

The monitoring report, covering April 1, 2017 to September 30, 2017, is part of the foster care reform lawsuit Michelle H. and others v. McMaster and Alford, which requires improvements on behalf of all the approximately 4,000 children in foster care statewide. U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel approved a Final Settlement Agreement (FSA) in October 2016 and appointed two national child welfare experts to monitor progress and issue periodic reports that assess the state’s performance in meeting mandated improvements and benchmarks.

The new report notes that despite improvements and success in a few areas, “too little has changed for the children, youth and families served by South Carolina’s child welfare system in the two and half years” since the parties entered into an Interim court agreement in September 2015.

The report finds that DSS has “urgent work ahead to improve its performance with respect to nearly all of the FSA measures.” Specific problem areas include inadequate housing and healthcare for children in foster care, severely overburdened caseworkers, and poor data collection.

“We knew the problems were deep when we brought this lawsuit, and this report reveals that initial compliance efforts have so far been slow and ineffective,” said Ira Lustbader, Litigation Director at Children’s Rights. “That must change immediately.”

The report notes that DSS has maintained “its early success in reducing the number of children ages six and under residing in congregate care facilities, placing them instead in family foster homes.” Additionally, the report found a “greater percentage of children visited with their siblings in foster care.”

But the report finds that DSS continues to face major challenges in the remaining areas, including:

“We stand ready to work with DSS to correct these big problems, but this is a critical moment for DSS,” said Sue Berkowitz, executive director of South Carolina Appleseed. “These kids must get the care and protection they need.”

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About Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, Children’s Rights holds governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.

South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center is a forceful and respected advocate for low-income South Carolinians on issues such as housing, education, hunger, public benefits, domestic violence, immigration, health care and consumer issues. SC Appleseed is dedicated to effecting systemic change wherever we can do the most good – in and through the courthouse, legislature, administrative agencies, community and the media. We grow our impact by helping others do the same through education, training and co-counseling. www.scjustice.org

Matthew Richardson is in private practice with Wyche, P.A., a full-service law firm that has participated in landmark litigation and cutting-edge transactions, and that has been shaping and driving the region’s growth and success for more than 90 years. www.wyche.com