DSS officials defend foster care system to senate panel - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

DSS officials defend foster care system to senate panel

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

State senators heard testimony Wednesday from DSS officials who defended the agency's foster care system.

"When a little one says something bad happened - that's our job," said Jessica Hanak-Coulter, deputy director of human services at the Department of Social Services. "We have to go find out 'did something bad happen?'"

Last year, more than 28,000 calls came into DSS and of those, the agency said about 18,000 were investigated.

One of those cases belonged to the Follmann family who said DSS treated their daughter like a criminal after she reported suspected abuse by her child's caretaker.

"Even though she was the one who called 911 and brought her to the hospital, they accused her of hurting the child," said Susan Follmann. "They said, ‘When we find that the babysitter did not do this, we're coming after you. …we know you're lying.'"

Their granddaughter was eventually released into their custody with a handwritten note and the babysitter is being investigated by police.

And foster parents said they've experience other troubling problems with case workers at DSS.

"You've got some who don't know how to install a car seat when they pick up your kids, they don't know how to change a diaper," said Regina Dunlap with the Lexington County Foster Parents Association. "You don't know what condition they're going to come back in."

Also in revealed Wednesday's testimony, over 50 percent of all county DSS directors have left the agency over the past 3 years and the number of children being adopted in the state is also up 50 percent during the past three years.

"Anytime you get rapid turnover in an area like child protection, it does raise a red flag as to why that's the cause," said State Sen. Joel Lourie, (D-Richland-Kershaw County). "Is there too much pressure being brought to bear, why these directors are turning over so quickly."

The agency is currently hoping to fill more than 100 vacant case worker positions, but they say that isn't stopping them from increasing their outreach.

"We have increased the number of face to face contacts from 84 percent to 94 percent," Hanak-Coulter said. "We're not done."

More hearings with DSS are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

Representaives from DSS declined an on camera interview but DSS State Director Lillian B. Koller said in a statement:

"We are dedicated to providing the best and most responsive care for children and families across South Carolina and welcome any legislative oversight and input from the community to help achieve these goals. In an effort to make this process as transparent as possible, while still protecting the privacy and rights of the victims, we look forward to working with the General Assembly to reform any laws currently preventing a more complete and appropriate disclosure of the facts."

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