I have been accused by my father of having what he terms an “overactive sense of justice,” which is probably fairly accurate, but it does present me problems at times. Now is one of those times, here in my capacity as a staff writer, chasing a story that needs to be told, and my frustration is growing,
I consider myself a fairly intelligent man, capable of grasping abstract thoughts, processes, and terminology. I can balance a checkbook, form a complete sentence, and have even been known to do calculus for fun. But as I have taken on a task that may prove to be an uphill climb like no other I’ve experienced, I’m beginning to wonder if I have any sense, common or otherwise, at all.
I began investigating the quagmire that is the Department of Social Services with an altruistic idea of putting forth the story of children lost in the shuffle, families needlessly harangued, and a foster care/child welfare system overworked and underfunded.
Somewhere along the way though, I began to uncover statistics, numbers, and anomalies I never expected and at this point can’t even begin to explain to you.
What was a quixotic quest has now become an accountant’s and/or actuary’s nightmare.
The layers of bureaucracy insulating this department seem to be never ending. To this point I have contacted, interviewed, or reviewed documents from a dozen different state organizations that assist in overseeing the welfare of our children, each at one time or another the brainchild of some politician to fix the issues at hand.
In working with this group of offices, I have discovered no one knows anything about what the rest of the bureaucracies are doing. In this case, it isn’t a matter of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. This is a case where not a single finger knows what any other finger is doing.
When it comes to the money involved in supporting child welfare services in this state, I have yet to find two officials that agree on how much is spent, where it goes, or who gets it. There’s supposedly a level of transparency in state budgets, but in this case, $28 million of the $32 million listed in the budget is reported as “Other Professional Services” with no line item as to what those services are or who they are performed by.
Then, if you really want to give yourself a migraine, try figuring out how much the state receives in federal funds and the discrepancy statewide as to how it is distributed to foster families in differing amounts by no discernible slide rule.
How about the 58 deaths on DSS’s watch last year?
According to State Sen. Katrina Shealy of Lexington, this number is actually low. All deaths of a child MUST be reported to the State Law Enforcement Division by the county coroner, yet a county like Lee County, for example, has reported none since 2009.
The laws of statistics and chance make that about as likely as me playing starting center for the Miami Heat. SLED investigates every case reported that is not the result of unavoidable accident or a pathological cause, such as disease, but the likelihood a county in South Carolina has zero cases to be investigated are unfathomable.
The morass goes on and on in this tangled web of bureaucracy, money, seemingly nonexistent accountability, high caseworker turnover, private third party vendors paid from tax funds, etc., and so forth. Is it possible to actually be able to wade through the charts, statistics, budgets, blind alleys, disgruntled former employees, or even the endless stories of families who have been through the trials of DSS and find any answers?
In the end there has to be. Children are dying as the result of a broken system unable to regulate itself or third party providers, poorly vetted foster parents, and an inability to coordinate along any line. These deaths are in almost every case preventable and should have been.
The horror stories relayed by families who have been involved with DSS are bad enough, but the preventable death of a single child is worth the effort of tearing every document to pieces, tracking every single penny, and completely deconstructing the overlapping bureaucracy that is intended to serve the children of our state, instead of placing them in harm’s way for even one more day.
D. C. Moody is a staff writer for The Easley Progress, The Pickens Sentinel and Powdersville Post and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.