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Forgetting Dead Children

October 3, 2014 permalink

A legislative audit in South Carolina has disclosed that child deaths under watch of state child protectors (DSS) disappear from criminal investigations and from statistical reports. The reports of child deaths given to the legislature are false. The journalist writes of homes under DSS watch, without mentioning that many are foster homes.

Previous analysis by fixcas has shown that throughout the USA, reports of fatalities in foster homes are understated. The South Carolina report suggests that foster care deaths escape prosecution and even statistical reporting.



Audit: Excessive Caseloads, Unreported Child Deaths

152 Child Deaths Went Unreported to SLED

Legislative Audit Council
Photo: Legislative Audit Council

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A number of policy changes regarding child fatality investigations and child maltreatment cases have happened in the weeks leading up to the release of an audit of the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

Those policy changes have occurred not only at DSS, but also at the State Law Enforcement Division, Department of Health and Environmental Control and Department of Public Safety.

The state's Legislative Audit Council released the long awaited audit of DSS Friday after a 2012 request from Rep. Jenny Horne (R-Summerville).

It's not the first time the LAC has audited DSS. The agency, which is required to have one lawyer and one accountant on it's council, audited DSS in 1985 and again in 2006.

The audit confirms months of reporting by News19 that DSS frontline caseworkers had too many cases and the system for investigating allegations of abuse failed in some instances.


The audit, "found areas in critical need of improvement without with the department will be less able to make significant progress in protecting children from abuse and neglect."

The starting salary for a DSS caseworker is $30,582 according to the report.

The turnover rate for child welfare workers in child protective services and foster care increased more than 12% from 2011 to 2013, the report says.

However, in it's report to the Association of Children and Families, the audit says DSS reported inaccurate turnover rates including employees that worked outside of the child protective fields in their count.

Right now, DSS caseworkers are not required to have college degrees in social work or a behavior science and standards for training those workers are "unclear" the audit said. New hires are also not required to have previous relevant experience.

"DSS does not maintain central records of the training and certification received by caseworkers, nor does it maintain central records of continuing education," the audit said.

In it's response, DSS says it's identified a Learning Management System that it will implement to track certification and training.

Starting November 1, the agency says it's increasing salaries for ti's child welfare caseworkers and supervisors. It's also creating new "caseworker assistant" and "lead worker" positions to give employees growth opportunities.


DSS has reported to the Senate DSS Oversight Committee and the public that fatalities with prior agency involvement have declined since 2009 but auditors say lapses in reporting mean that may not be true.

"The number of child fatalities which met the criteria for reporting to SLED that were not correctly reported is shocking," said Dr. Susan Luberoff, State Child Fatality Advisory Committee Chair.

The LAC found 152 child fatalities in South Carolina between 2009 and 2013 where SLED did not have a report from county coroners and therefor child death data released by DSS could be compromised.

"We found that child fatality data reported to the General Assembly and the public regarding child maltreatment deaths, particularly those with prior DSS involvement, is not reliable," the audit says.

The audit suggests reporting failures could originate in county coroner's offices. Between 2009 and 2013, the audit says 104 fatalities were not reported by the coroner to SLED as required by state law. In 48 more, coroners say fatalities were reported but SLED has no record in it's database.

"It is not possible from this analysis to conclude that deaths with DSS involvement have declined," the report says.

SLED Chief Mark Keel says going forward, county coroners will receive an email from SLED acknowledging a receipt of a child fatatlity and that on other submissions (fax or mail) coroners should confirm their submission is received.

In response to the report, South Carolina's Department of Health And Environmental Control says they will work collaborate with SLED on child deaths:

In June of 2014, SLED requested that DHEC begin providing statistical information to SLED related to death certificates in which coroners note suspicious deaths to use as a check on the information currently provided by coroners.

Since that time, DHEC and SLED have been working cooperatively to establish a system which will allow SLED to cross-reference information received from coroners to ensure coroners are reporting suspicious child fatalities in accordance with statutory requirements.

Keel also says he's adding 4 new positions to the SLED's Department of Child Fatalities.

DSS says they'll now prepare written reports when an investigation suggests child abuse or neglect was involved in a fatality and are working with the South Carolina General Assembly to increase the amount of information that can be legally released.

The Senate DSS Oversight Committee meets Friday morning and is scheduled to discuss the audit and plans developed by DSS over the past two weeks to fill vacant caseworker positions before 2015.

Source: WLTX News