Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Injuries and deaths connected to the South Carolina Department of Social Services could be the result of a policy to cut the number of children in foster care.
That's the concern being raised by some child advocates and lawmakers.
They brought the issue before the state's Joint Citizen's Legislative Committee on Children at a town hall meeting Thursday.
The panel is made up of three state senators, three state representatives, three people appointed by the governor, the State Superintendent on Education, and the directors of the Department of Mental Health, Social Services, Juvenile Justice, and Disabilities and Special Needs.
"I am very fearful that more children will die," said Paige Greene, Executive Director of the Richland County Court Appointed Special Advocates. The group recruits and trains volunteers to investigate and works on behalf of children to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect.
"I have never seen so many broken bones, rib fractures, skull fractures, and unfortunately child deaths," she said.
In her 30 year career, Greene says she has never seen what she witnessed in the last year in South Carolina.
"We're repeatedly told by case workers who work at the Department of Social Services they're fearful of their jobs, that they can't take a child into foster care or they have to push that child to leave foster care because they have to get their numbers down," said Greene
It is that focus on numbers that Richland County Senator Joel Lourie, a Democrat, says he has heard about from people across the state.
"I think you're seeing some very tragic outcomes from that. I think kids have lost their lives, I know that we've lost at least three here in Richland County in the last four months," he said.
Lourie calls it a terrible problem and says it is time something is done.
"These are some of our most vulnerable citizens, and it's our job as a state to protect them and I think that the policies that Ms. Koller and the governor have implemented have failed the children greatly," said Lourie.
"It's just horrific, and I just pray that this community comes together and that we address this issue," said Greene.
We contacted Governor Nikki Haley's office about a possible policy from her office or DSS to push numbers down. We were told that Director Lillian Koller would be in attendance at the children's committee meeting and may be able to respond to our request.
DSS sent us a response from Koller ahead of the meeting.
"Child safety is the top priority at the Department of Social Services. We have made great strides since February 2011 and there is much work ahead. There is no policy or push to reduce the number of children in foster care. Everything we do is focused on trying to keep children safe and prevent all preventable harm to children," said Koller.