Phantom Caseworkers On DSS County Roster

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Fifty days before 5 month old baby Bryson Webb died in Richland County, a medical professional called The South Carolina Department of Social Services to warn them the baby was in trouble.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department charged Webb's mother, Jennifer Coles, with neglect after they found a heart monitor Bryson needed to wear in a pile of clothes in the trunk of her car.

"When you ask 'where are our problem areas?' We will say 'top of the list: Richland,'" said DSS State Director Lillian Koller to a Senate Subcommittee investigating the agency.

Last year, 4 year old Robert Guinyard Jr. died after DSS returned him from foster care to his parents.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department charged his mom and dad with Homicide By Child Abuse. They are still awaiting trial.

Koller said 8 employees were fired or retired as a result of his death but told the Senate subcommittee she's got plans to keep county offices staffed.

"We need more people there," Koller said. "No question about it."

The Senate budget office says Koller has asked for 50 new caseworker positions be allocated to DSS.

In a copy of the request we obtained, she says the agency already has the money to pay those 50 employees. The request says with the new employees, "DSS will have an appropriate number of Child Protective Services caseworkers."

Senator Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, alongside fellow senators investigating DSS, Tom Young, R-Aiken, and Joel Lourie, D-Richland, say there's turnover trouble inside the agency because workers have too many cases.

In a Richland County Office Summary document, we found workers who were once employed by DSS but no longer there with cases next to their names.

At least 3 workers were still on the roster showing a caseload weeks, sometimes months, after they left DSS.

If the list is up to date, there's a problem says child welfare attorney Jay Elliott whose worked on child abuse issues for the past four decades.

"Well obviously, if a kids in danger, you can't just let that kid sit there and be exposed," Elliott said.

We showed Elliott the confidential roster we obtained from March 30th of this year, showing at least 3 employees who left the agency or were fired weeks, sometimes months, before.

"You don't want to lose kids. I mean you don't want to lost kids in the system," Elliott said.

Take former employee Rita Morris as an example. When the March 30th report was generated Rita wasn't working for DSS but was listed on the roster.

Morris' resignation letter shows she resigned on December 20, 2013 saying, "the workload has become too much for any one person to handle and I am only one person."

A second employee who asked to remain anonymous had a few cases next to their name on the report. They were terminated for 'unsatisfactory supervisory performance' in August, 2013 more than half a year before the report.

A third employee who doesn't want to be named had more than 30 cases the report said. Their last day at DSS was in February.

"If you are giving out statistics about case loads, and you include these imaginary workers, these phantom workers in your count, it makes case loads look much smaller," said Linda Martin, a former DSS State Deputy Director.

Martin has testified before the Senate Subcommittee looking into DSS right now.

The subcommittee has asked DSS State Director Lillian Koller about phantom workers, like the former employees we found in their report.

Koller says she's not advised anyone to leave former employees on the books.

"As a community watchdog, you've identified a problem," said Malik Whitaker, a DSS Regional Director.

Whitaker does not cover Richland County but is familiar with the report we uncovered.

"If these individuals are no longer with the agency, this report indicates a data entry problem, that we can do better updating the report," Whitaker said.

DSS County Directors across the state use office summaries as one of many tools to manage caseworkers and caseloads according to Whitaker.

Despite inaccuracies on paper, he says kids were not neglected.

"If someone leaves the agency, the staff is going to take over those cases to make sure those kids are safe," Whitaker said. "The point is the report hasn't been updated to reflect that. That's the point. Not that the children haven't been seen. I want to make that clear. The report hasn't been updated. That's an issue. We need to get those names out of the system and get the report corrected."


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