Lillian Koller's resignation Monday as director of the S.C. Department of Social Services was unquestionably necessary. During her three years in the office, she was unable to correct the department's problems to the public's satisfaction, and mounting inconsistencies were eroding the people's confidence.
South Carolina needs to feel certain that the head of DSS is doing the right things to ensure the safety of its most vulnerable children. During hearings before the Senate DSS Oversight Committee, Ms. Koller's staff presented misleading information about social workers' case loads, and coroners testified that her agency was uncooperative and secretive during investigations into the deaths of children on DSS rolls.
Further, employees and former employees contended that Ms. Koller and her leadership team were more interested in enhancing the department's numbers than in taking care of the people in need of care.
Those charges, combined with the tragic death of five-month-old Bryson Webb in Richland County, have left the public - and many members of the Senate - eager for different leadership.
A bipartisan contingent of the Senate last week submitted a no-confidence resolution, including a requirement that DSS regularly submit information to the Legislature about department case loads.
Senators repeatedly asked Gov. Nikki Haley to fire Ms. Koller. Gov. Haley, however, remained staunchly supportive of her appointee. Even after her resignation, Mrs. Haley credited her with putting the well-being of South Carolina's children above her own.
But the numbers the governor cited in announcing Ms. Koller's resignation - closing a $28 million deficit and moving more than 20,000 South Carolinians from welfare-to-work - didn't offset nagging questions about workers being assigned far too many cases than could be handled adequately and Ms. Koller's reluctance to concede that fact.
Ms. Koller's staff reported that the average case load per DSS worker was six. However, nearly a third of DSS workers during the month of May were shouldering more than the recommended case load of 12 to 15.
There is concern that the overload might have played a role in the April death of Bryson Webb. Bryson's case worker had 37 cases on March 2. By March 9, the worker had 49. It was in March that DSS received reports that the child was not receiving proper medical care, but the agency couldn't find the family for 45 days - three days after he died.
It was only after the Oversight Committee discussed this case that DSS adopted a policy whereby it will seek help from law enforcement if workers are unable to locate a family within 72 hours.
If it is to improve, DSS needs honest and open communication about the agency's successes and failures. Gov. Haley must find a DSS director who will accurately assess the department and set things right, beginning with ensuring adequate oversight for children in its care.
Notice about comments: