Proposal could lower number of children DSS sends to group homes

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Department of Social Services officials are hoping a bill making its way through the Senate will help reduce the number of children living in group homes.

The bill, which already passed the House, cleared another hurdle Thursday when a panel of senators gave it further approval. It would allow foster families to house a maximum of eight kids, including five foster children. Current law caps the number of total children allowed in a home at five.

DSS Spokeswoman Karen Luchka Wingo told the Judiciary Subcommittee the changes would ideally help move children out of group homes and in with caring families. South Carolina is about 1,500 foster homes short of demand, she said.

Sens. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, and Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, voiced concern over foster families who want to take in more children but under ulterior motives, including to benefit from the stipend they receive per child.

Trey Ingram was one of foster parents who testified in favor of the proposal. He acknowledged the lawmakers’ concerns, confirming there are “bad actors out there,” but stressed most foster families are loving ones, like his.

“I think passing this legislation, there are going to be a number more homes open,” Ingram said. “We all know we need more foster homes and this is a way to achieve that.”

Federal data shows South Carolina sends its youngest foster children — those under 13 years old — into group homes and institutions at a much higher rate than any other state in the country.

A 2015 Post and Courier investigation titled “Warehousing our Children” revealed the state spends more than five times as much money on group homes than it does on foster families.

Lauren Sausser contributed to this report.