Gov. Nikki Haley touts improved statistics related to child deaths and adoptions as a sign of Lillian Koller's success at the helm of the Department of Social Services.
Two coroners say that DSS is uncooperative and secretive, and the department under her watch mishandles cases.
But one statistic is all that is needed to establish the need for a serious investigation: Despite 15 DSS reports from the home where he was living, 4-year-old Robert Guinyard Jr. of Richland County died there.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts told a Senate panel Wednesday, "The child should be alive today. We all in this state failed that child."
One such story is more than enough. But Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten cited another case of a child dying despite his grandmother reporting to DSS injuries, including a fractured wrist and leg.
The accounts - along with testimony from two former DSS staffers about unfair and inappropriate operations - have convinced two senators that Ms. Koller has to go.
It didn't help that she has not appeared before a Senate oversight panel, saying she is waiting for permission from her doctor. She has been on medical leave since December.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, and a member of the oversight panel, is prepared to issue a subpoena to compel Koller to appear.
Clearly, it is important to hear what Ms. Koller has to say about problems with DSS.
But confidence in the department has eroded to the point that further scrutiny needs to be ordered. For example, the deputy director said the average number of cases per caseworker is six. A former director of DSS in Richland County said it's nearer 70.
It would be encouraging to learn that other DSS claims are correct: that child deaths have decreased 25 percent, adoptions have increased 11 percent and more than 20,000 people have moved from welfare to work.
The skeptical public deserves an objective assessment of DSS's operations and outcomes. It's fine that DSS has a new initiative to address obesity in South Carolina.
But it's vital that the state's most vulnerable children are being protected - that a competent staff has the time, knowledge and skills necessary to deal with abused, neglected and abandoned children, and their families.
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