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Federal Court Approves Plan to Immediately Address Crisis of Children Sleeping in South Carolina DSS Offices

Contact: Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.org

COLUMBIA, SC — South Carolina’s Department of Social Services (“DSS”) and Counsel for all children in foster care custody in the State, as parties to a 2016 settlement that requires dramatic changes in South Carolina’s foster care system, have agreed to a short-term action plan to address children staying overnight in DSS’s offices.

Since April 2021, a rising number of children in state custody have been forced to stay overnight – sometimes multiple nights – in DSS’s offices. In a letter filed with the Court, the court-appointed Monitors explained that the increase in overnight office stays were symptoms of a placement crisis that raised safety concerns for the children involved. The Monitors also found that some children facing these conditions are as young as 4 years old, and are disproportionately Black. In addition to the devastating emotional and psychological impact, research shows that repetitive night-to-night placements like these have a direct impact on children’s normal brain development, and can cause developmental and neurological damage that may be irreparable.

The new short-term action plan, which runs for the next six months, requires that DSS: update its policies and train its staff; strengthen its practices and incentives for identifying stable placement options; prioritize the placement of children with family members, which is known to have the best long-term outcomes for children’s well-being; implement a “Children and Youth with Exceptional Needs” pilot that will include at least 10 specialized foster homes with more extensive service arrays; and disburse flexible funds to re-license or engage foster families in the most-affected counties.

South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, national child advocacy organization Children’s Rights and Matthew T. Richardson, an attorney with the South Carolina law firm Wyche, P.A., filed Michelle H. v. McMaster in 2015. The Co-Monitors in the case are Paul Vincent of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group and Judith Meltzer of the Center for the Study of Social Policy.

“DSS and Plaintiffs came together to develop this emergency plan because the degree of placement instability and safety concerns for children in state care has reached a crisis level,” said Susan Berkowitz, Director at South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “The state must act quickly to put an end to having children sleep in offices or motels by providing appropriate foster care and family settings, in particular by making the placement of children with kinship caregivers a priority – not just an option.”

“This plan is a way to take immediate action to address placement instability and unsafe conditions, and stop the trauma being inflicted on children. But deeper systemic problems remain that must be corrected for the long term, including putting an end to ‘night to night’ and temporary placements, and sending youth far from home and out of state. We will work closely with DSS to make sure lasting change happens and children have the stability, support and care they need.” said Aleshadye Getachew, Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights.

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ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA APPLESEED LEGAL JUSTICE CENTER

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.

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Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.