COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Department of Social Services failed to properly investigate allegation of child abuse and the deaths of children in South Carolina, according to an audit released Friday.
The Legislative Audit Council's report also found that caseloads in the child welfare agency are excessive, with caseworkers in some counties especially burdened. The agency also doesn't do enough to ensure children in its care are placed in safe homes, according to the report.
Most of the problems detailed in the audit were already public. But the nearly 100-page report consolidates them into a portrait of a troubled agency that struggled to keep up with workload, didn't request additional money and ignored problems as they grew.
In response to the audit, DSS said it is aware of problems and welcomes any help it can get. DSS is hiring more caseworkers and sharing them across county lines, Acting director Amber Gillum said in a six-page response letter.
"We're moving in the right direction," Gillum said.
Gillum took over for Lillian Koller, who for years said the agency didn't need more money or manpower.
A special Senate committee reviewing DSS plans to talk about the audit Friday.
Just hours before the audit was released, DSS released plans to spend $6.4 million to add 221 employees, including eight supervisors and 67 assistants. The newly created assistant jobs are designed to free caseworkers from paperwork and other tasks that take their attention away from children. Their hiring will start in November, Gillum said.
Even with the hiring, DSS' child welfare ranks won't return to pre-recession levels, Gillum said.
Koller's predecessor, Kathleen Hayes, had repeatedly warned legislators that their deep, recession-era budget cuts — which slashed hundreds of jobs at the agency — would harm the DSS mission of protecting vulnerable children and adults. But when Koller took over, she dismissed any questions about shortages while setting ambitious goals for remaining staff.
Under DSS' plan, county caseworkers and supervisors are getting a 10 percent raise, starting with their Nov. 2 paycheck. That boosts a caseworker's starting salary by $3,140 to $34,580. That piece of the plan cost $2.1 million, Gillum said.
Of the 221 jobs, 50 are additional caseworkers the Legislature gave the agency permission to hire in the current budget. So far, 17 of those positions have been filled and eight others have been selected for the job.
Gillum said the agency has hired 139 child welfare employees since June 2, for a net gain of 74 people after filling vacancies caused by turnover.
Koller resigned June 2 amid increasing, bipartisan calls for her departure. Her boss, Gov. Nikki Haley, had staunchly supported Koller for months.
DSS' hiring plan is funded by what it otherwise would send the state's Medicaid agency as its share of match money that draws down federal payments for services. The Medicaid agency expects to be able to absorb that risk, said Tony Keck, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
"This just allows them to use that money to do hiring, and we'll take the responsibility," he said.
Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.