COLUMBIA — Each year, state social workers are unable to substantiate thousands of reports of child abuse or neglect, yet hundreds of those cases later result in harm to children. South Carolina officials said Thursday they aim to improve that record with a review of caseworker practices.
The state’s Department of Social Services director said she hopes it will mean at least 250 fewer children are harmed in the months after caseworkers have determined abuse and neglect are unfounded.
DSS Executive Director Lillian Koller told caseworkers about the new safety standards directive at a monthly meeting in Columbia.
Koller said the state is meeting or exceeding all federal child safety standards.
Isabel Blanco, a Koller deputy director who oversees child and adult welfare services, said the standards of what constitutes harm to a child might not be clear enough and people might differ on how to apply them. The new standards will make it clear that caseworkers shouldn’t repeatedly find that allegations of abuse or neglect are unsubstantiated.
Last year, caseworkers determined 11,802 children were being abused or
neglected, said Andre Barclay, who studies data for the Fostering Court Improvement Project.
Meanwhile, Barclay said, caseworkers couldn’t substantiate abuse or neglect involving 16,943 children. In that group, more than 700 children, or 4.3 percent, were victims of substantiated maltreatment within six months of the first report of abuse or neglect.
Koller said the agency wants to cut the rate to no more than 2.8 percent. That would mean about 250 fewer instances of subsequent child abuse or neglect.
Advocates say the change will create one of the nation’s toughest standards.