Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Lawmakers and review boards are beginning to suggest changes for the embattled South Carolina Department of Social Services after a number of child deaths and unfavorable reviews.
One of the potential changes is aimed at a policy DSS calls "screening out," where cases are turned over to non-profits or not investigated at all.
"We were saying before you send a case to the program you need to investigate," said Donna Xenakis, chair of the South Carolina Citizen's Review Panel. "They were saying no."
The Citizen's Review Panel is a federally mandated group that audits DSS practices and procedures. Less than a year ago, the group wrote a letter asking for emergency changes after the death of 4 year old Columbia boy Robert Guinyard Junior. Previous Coverage: 'The System Failed Robert'
Despite multiple reports to DSS, Robert's case was initially screened out and not recommended for a DSS investigation. The decision meant a non-profit and not state investigators originally handled the case.
Internal DSS audits show in 9 of 11 Midlands counties, policy violations happened when screening cases our of their care.
In the audits, county DSS offices randomly select a number of cases of review.
Among selected cases in Lexington, Newberry, and Saluda counties, DSS admits policy violations in 90%-100% of the screen outs.
1. Supervisors not consulting with one another before screening a case out.
2. Caseworkers not contacting collateral sources like law enforcement of medical professionals.
3. DSS not accepting a report even though the allegations met the legal definition of maltreatment.
"What's concerning about that is recognizing that while some of the calls may not be life threatening, we can't know that until an investigation is started," said Sue Berkowitz with Appleseed Legal Justice.
A senate subcommittee investigating DSS right now says along with the Citizens Review, they want the screen out process re-evaluated.
"I like the concept but I don't like the way it's been implemented thus far," said Senator Joel Lourie (D-Richland) "So, we've got a lot of work to do there or we, at least I, would support getting rid of it."
The county office audits are required every 5 years, but DSS has decided to conduct them every year and twice a year in it's larger counties.
TO LOOK AT AUDITS FOR YOUR COUNTY CLICK HERE.
"We have a process for identifying those challenges and that's what we're proud of," said Malik Whitaker, a DSS Regional Director. "These are areas needing improvement."
The Citizens' Review Panel says the audits show why they'll continue their efforts and why they believe the screen out process needs to change.
"They are still saying no were not going to do that," Xenakis said. "Basically the answer to everything we recommended that we thought would keep children safe was not, not taken well."