Any one of the sad stories described to the S.C. Senate's DSS Oversight Subcommittee is enough to call for changes at the agency. Add them together, and the "call" becomes a "demand." Problems must be addressed without delay.
Three senators (two Democrats and a Republican) have strengthened that message by calling for the Department of Social Services director to leave. She refuses. Gov. Nikki Haley must concede that the agency is troubled and that its director has lost the confidence of the public. She must take swift and definite steps to address both problems.
An agency that tends to the state's most vulnerable, including damaged babies and children is not going to exist without tragedies. But that doesn't mean DSS can shrug them off.
An infant shouldn't be taken from his mother only to die in a foster home with four times the acceptable number of children in it.
A family shouldn't be encouraged to adopt a teen-ager who doesn't want to be adopted and exhibits dangerous behavior as a consequence.
A four-year-old shouldn't be beaten to death after being moved from foster care to his home despite DSS receiving multiple reports of abuse there.
When DSS is made aware that an infant is not receiving necessary medical care, it shouldn't take 49 days to track the family down. Law enforcement could help. But in this case the baby already had died three days before the family was found.
At least as a result of the last incident, DSS has a new policy: If staff cannot find a person within 72 hours, law enforcement will be called in.
After a tragedy occurs, DSS shouldn't make things even worse by refusing to provide information to coroners trying to determine the reason for death.
A Senate bill would mean more transparency and would require coroners to report child deaths to law enforcement.
And an experienced, respected guardian ad litem shouldn't be taken lightly when she says she has never seen so many fractured skulls and broken bones among DSS children in her region.
Lillian Koller, DSS director, is in the governor's Cabinet, and Mrs. Haley has defended her repeatedly against accusations that she has tolerated a culture of incompetence and failed leadership, and that she is more concerned about numbers and national recognition than about children. The public expects more.
The governor has to take ownership of this Cabinet agency, not simply defend her appointee reflexively.
Unacceptable things have occurred under Ms. Koller's watch - things attested to by some staff, and former staff, members, coroners, senators and clients. Data that Ms. Koller holds up as proof that she is doing a good job differ markedly from state's Child Fatality Advisory Committee data.
A Legislative Audit Council report on DSS is due to be completed soon and should provide some answers.
Changing policy and reforming laws make sense, but they can't fix the agency's systemic problems - problems which can mean life or death for children.
It's time for a change, starting at the top.
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