COLUMBIA - New guidelines and training opportunities for a variety of responders across the state will help protect South Carolina's children who have been living in places associated with drugs, state and federal officials said Thursday.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles gathered with representatives from agencies including the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the State Law Enforcement Division to announce the state's agreement on a set of protocols governing how best to safeguard children discovered in places where drugs are used, dealt or manufactured.
The measures, Nettles said, are intended to help keep the children safe from potential abuses and ensure they aren't merely passed on to the closest relative or neighbor. They give guidance for what should happen when children are discovered at a drug-related crime scene and tell officials what they should do in terms of providing medical care, notifying social services officials, collecting evidence and doing follow-up visits.
"My No. 1 job is to make South Carolina a safer place," Nettles said. "They are as much a victim as any victim we have in this state."
Candice Lively of the University of South Carolina Children's Law Center helped coordinate the effort, which was piloted in the Orangeburg area and is now being implemented statewide. Lively said that her department will coordinate free trainings for agencies around the state that want to learn how better to respond in such situations.
The agreement makes South Carolina the 26th state in the country to be part of a national alliance implementing similar measures. No additional funding is being provided to conduct the trainings, Lively said, with the associated agencies volunteering their efforts.
"We want to make sure the children are protected and followed," Lively said. "No money came to us. Everyone volunteered their time."
The plans have been in place for about two years, Nettles said, adding that he felt it was time to codify the best way to help children living amid alleged drug crimes.
"We've got a protocol in place for every single aspect of a drug arrest," he said. "It just seemed to us that we needed a protocol in place for what happens to children in a drug arrest."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP