South Carolina is failing too many children in need of foster families, and the situation appears to be getting worse.
A new report from the Chronicle for Social Change found that South Carolina lost more foster families between 2012 and 2017 — 651 statewide — than all other states aside from Nebraska plus Washington, D.C.
South Carolina needs about 1,300 new foster homes, according to the state Department of Social Services.
The silver lining is that at least some of the decline in the number of foster households results when foster children are adopted. Once a child is adopted, the host family is no longer considered a foster family.
Since a long-term family is obviously preferable to a temporary situation, it’s great that foster children are being adopted in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the number of youths needing a foster home increased during the same time that the number of available homes decreased.
As such, more than one-in-five of the roughly 4,100 foster kids in South Carolina lives in a group home setting.
The state must do more to help every child find a more stable family.
As a start, that will almost certainly have to involve paying foster families more money to care for foster youth. South Carolina pays between $14 and $18 per day depending on the age of the child — well below the national average of $24 per day.
But cost of living varies widely by region and municipality in South Carolina, meaning that some otherwise capable families in cities like Charleston would struggle to support a child on as little as $420 per month.
More work should also be done to help foster children stay with relatives. Only 6 percent of the state’s foster youth lived with kin in 2015, according to the report, while the national average is 30 percent.
Bringing up the state’s numbers would reduce the overall burden on the foster system while allowing more kids to live with close family.
Of course that’s not always a safe or healthy option. More foster families will be needed, in any event.
To become a licensed foster parent, applicants must pass a background check, complete 14 hours of training, submit personal references and financial information, pass a comprehensive home assessment and safety inspection and provide at least one bedroom, among other requirements.
It’s a necessarily rigorous process that ensures foster children are placed in safe and stable environments, but the state DSS outlines each step and allows those interested to start an application online at dss.sc.gov/foster-care.
Foster children are among the most vulnerable young people in South Carolina. The state needs to do more to help them find steady living situations. And more South Carolinians must make the generous and commendable decision to open their homes to those in need.