A Richland County state senator wants to question the director of the state’s Department of Social Services after the deaths this year of three Richland County children from abuse or neglect while they were involved with that state agency.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, a member of the Senate committee that oversees Social Services, said he plans to have agency director Lillian Koller appear before a special Senate subcommittee to answer questions about the deaths.
“Something has gone wrong within the agency in the last year, terribly wrong,” Lourie said. “The consequences are tragic, and I think they have let the children of South Carolina down.”
Lourie’s comments came after a public hearing of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, created to advise the governor and Legislature on child-safety issues. The committee heard testimony Thursday, including remarks by J. Paige Greene, executive director of Richland County CASA, a public-nonprofit partnership that provides volunteer guardians for children in child abuse and neglect cases.
“I have been in this business for over 30 years,” Greene told the committee, which includes Koller. “And, honestly, I have never in my life been so scared or frightened for the safety of our children as I am today.”
Laura Hudson, a member of the state Child Fatality Advisory Committee that reviews suspicious child deaths, said 312 children have died since 2009 while involved in one way or another with Social Services. The state agency’s duties include investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect.
Hudson said the State Law Enforcement Division currently has 472 active investigations into child deaths.
Koller, a member of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s cabinet, said the number of child deaths where Social Services was involved before a fatality has decreased steadily – from 73 in 2009 to 62 in 2012. Thus far in 2013, there have been 42 deaths of children who had some involvement with Social Services.
“Child safety is our top priority,” Koller said during the meeting. “Everything we do is focused on trying to prevent preventable crimes on children.”
A look at child deaths in S.C., according to a committee hearing Thursday