S.C. Rep. Horne keeps pressure on DSS over handling of child abuse, neglect cases

A child was molested for 15 months after being placed by social workers in a Dorchester County home where a registered sex offender lived, state Rep. Jenny Horne said Tuesday.

S.C. child abuse investigations

2007 2008 2009 2010

Cases referred for investigation

27,751 25,095 27,542 28,092

Cases accepted for investigation

18,553 14,699 18,246 17,763

Cases with some indication of maltreatment

7,218 5,918 6,649 6,686

National Kids Count Program, Children's Trust of South Carolina

“It's outrageous,” said Horne, who lives in Summerville.

Dorchester County officials did not confirm the report.

“I do know there is an investigation ongoing now,” she said.

Reaching out to readers

An audit is planned of the state Department of Social Services because of concerns about the agency expressed by the State House Republican Caucus. In a letter, the caucus says it is particularly concerned about children who have died while on the DSS radar.

If you have been a DSS client and would like to talk about your experience with the agency please call Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.

Horne said she could not reveal the source of her information.

“It's just grossly negligent. There is no other way to describe it,” she said.

The Legislative Audit Council on Monday approved an audit of the state Department of Social Services based on Horne's account of this case and others. More than two dozen members of the state House Republican Caucus, including Horne, asked for the review in a letter to the LAC.

The DSS office in Berkeley County put the child in the Dorchester County home at the request of the mother, who was being investigated because of concerns that the youngster was neglected, the letter states.

Horne said the child is a girl 8 to 10 years old, and the DSS audit will get to the bottom of how the situation happened.

“It's inexcusable,” she said.

In response to the upcoming audit, DSS issued a brief statement on Tuesday.

“We were contacted today by Legislative Audit Council Director Perry Simpson. He advised that the audit is likely to start after the first of the year,” it said. “We will cooperate fully with the audit and look forward to working with the LAC staff.”

The agency did not respond to a request for comment on allegations of sexual abuse in the Dorchester County case.

In their letter, the legislators said they want to know how many children have died from abuse and/or neglect while in the DSS Child Protective Services system. They are also seeking information on the number of cases in which a child was abused or neglected after an initial investigation found no problems in the home.

Horne said she has consistently received complaints about DSS child protection. She spoke Monday to the LAC about the need for an audit of DSS.

Horne noted two high-profile local cases in which youngsters died while their living conditions were on the radar of child welfare officials. In one, a Goose Creek 8-year-old girl succumbed to asthma in an emergency room after her parents failed to give her appropriate treatment. In another, a 13-year-old boy of Summerville died of malnourishment and neglect.

Robert Clarkson, chairman of Richland County CASA, a volunteer guardian ad litem program, said prisoners get better treatment from the state than at-risk children.

“Without ambiguity, child protective services in the state of South Carolina are horrific,” he said.

Clarkson, a retired businessman, said DSS investigated him because he complained about how the agency handled allegations of child abuse and neglect. Budget cuts have forced DSS to relax its standards on what constitutes child abuse. Social workers face “horrendous” caseloads, he said.

“It all goes back to money,” he said.

The letter to the LAC asking for the DSS audit was signed by 33 House members, including Speaker Bobby Harrell, who could not be reached for comment.

“Several members of the House have received complaints regarding the management and operations of the Department of Social Services,” the letter states.

Poor management of some county offices, a disconnect between the central office and county office operations and complaints about administration of bidding for “congregate care” are areas of concern cited in the letter.

The legislators submitted 11 question that the audit should answer, including whether federal and state laws and regulations pertaining to child protective services are being followed by DSS offices. It also asks for information on employee and caseworker training requirements and how the effectiveness of training is measured.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711.

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