Kiwanis speakers talk state of foster care system
By Samantha Lylesslyles@newsandpress.net
At the Feb. 20 meeting of the Darlington Kiwanis Club, members learned about the current state of South Carolina’s foster care system from two women on the front lines.
Melissa Alexander and Verneshia McDaniel from the Department of Social Services served as guest speakers and talked candidly about the pressures and realities of their work.
“It’s a tough job,” Alexander said. “The children that are placed in these homes (come from situations with) high risk, a lot of abuse, a lot of neglect.”
She described a scenario that repeats again and again, where parental abuse or neglect requires intervention by law enforcement officers and judges.
If and when those authorities determine that a child must be placed in foster care, DSS is called in to remove the at-risk child to safety. These kids are taken from their homes, often late at night, frightened and crying. Alexander said most of the time, the traumatized children don’t want to leave their parents, even when the home has become overtly dangerous due to drug use or violence.
Placement in foster care is meant to serve as a temporary haven for these children until their parents are deemed ready to resume custody. A typical foster care stay lasts about one year, Alexander said, though some kids remain in the system until adulthood. For those long-term cases, DSS helps them transition out with education assistance and job placement.
Unfortunately, the number of kids placed in foster care has steadily grown. There are about 4,500 children in South Carolina’s foster care system, up from 4,000 in 2018. Alexander noted that as the system faces an increasing workload, caseworkers are being asked to supervise more children in more far-flung locations.
Alexander manages eight caseworkers who supervise 93 foster care cases from Darlington County. These children range from infants to 17 years old, and represent a cross-section of races and ethnicities (44 white, 38 black, and the balance multi-racial). She noted that while the kids may hail from local towns, necessity often finds them placed in foster homes and new schools several hours away from familiar surroundings.
“We have children placed throughout the whole state that we see on a monthly basis. … Our caseworkers are driving anywhere from five minutes to five hours to see their children,” Alexander said.
Following the presentation, Kiwanis members asked questions about the foster care program, including how much foster parents receive each month to cover child care expenses. Alexander replied that fostering kids is considered a volunteer effort because the foster board payments – from $400 to $600 per month, depending on the child’s age – should be just enough to pay for the child’s expenses. Foster parents are limited to six foster children per home.
Alexander said more foster homes are needed, and those interested must pass background checks and screening. To learn more about the DSS foster care program, visit www.heartfeltcalling.org.