Originally created 08/24/06

Agency breaks law, audit says



COLUMBIA - The state Department of Social Services does not follow state law in child protection cases, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The Legislative Audit Council report says DSS workers aren't following the law requiring reports and visits in cases involving abuse and neglect. More than half of the sample of cases they reviewed showed caseworkers did not visit once a month. Auditors also found DSS staffers sometimes did not complete abuse investigations within the required 60-day period.

Lawmakers requested the agency review after three Rock Hill children were killed. DSS began an investigation into the Meza family in May 2004 when the father, Jose "Denis" Meza, was accused of sexually assaulting his 14-year-old daughter.

The bodies of Meza, his wife, Marbely, and their children were found in their burned home near Rock Hill on Aug. 10. The children had been drugged, and their throats were slit. The 14-year-old daughter had been sexually assaulted.

DSS disciplinary records showed York County workers did not meet monthly with the Meza family as required and did not interview all relatives about the child sexual abuse allegations.

The auditors reviewed operations in York, Bamberg, Kershaw, Lexington and Marlboro counties.

They found DSS:

- Did not comply in 34 of 55 cases reviewed with polices requiring children of in-home cases be seen every 30 days.

- Didn't follow procedures to put people considered to have committed sexual abuse on a central registry in 30 of the 77 cases reviewed.

- Doesn't take disciplinary action on policy violations. In York County, three-fourths of the cases reviewed involved visits not being made within the time required, but there were no reports of caseworkers or supervisors being disciplined.

- Allows workers to resign before disciplinary action is taken, opening the possibility that they can find work in another DSS office with no record of past problems.

Agency director Kim Aydlette referred an AP reporter to her written response, which was included in the audit.