The South Carolina Department of Children’s Advocacy (DCA) was established in July, 2019 to better serve children who are in the care of the state. It is an independent state agency dedicated to ensuring that children receive protection and services from programs related to the welfare of children. Only six months in and the DCA seems less like a state agency and more like a call center.
The department oversees nine agencies that includes: Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Health and Environmental Control, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
“It’s an agency that will be able to create a broad vision of reform and make recommendations to the governor and the legislature regarding improvement of services for children by state agencies,” said Amanda Whittle, Director at the Department of Child Advocacy.
For the past six months the DCA has been compiling questions, concerns and complaints through calls and emails mainly when there are issues regarding the health and welfare of children.
“We have gotten over 800 complaints so far and a majority of those complaints are about DSS,” Whittle said. “Those complaints range from, ‘I am trying to get in touch with my caseworker and I don’t have her phone number or she won’t call me back,’ to ‘These children have been in foster care for four-and-a-half years and we need help.’”
When the DCA is contacted four investigators, which includes the director, have to then determine if the complainants need to be looked at further, is part of a court order, based on evidence or unfounded. But the number of so far was unexpected; from a trickle to a pour.
“The first week I thought, seven phone calls a week, I can keep up with this,” said Whittle. “Then when it quadrupled the next week, I thought wow, I can see how this may get kind of tight; I did not think that within six months we would have gotten over 800 phone calls.”
Sorting and investigating complaints is just the beginning and is not the agency’s specific purpose. DCA was established by the General Assembly to get a better picture on how agencies are handling children in their care which includes a struggling foster care system.
“Ideally I would love for foster care numbers to go down because children thrive in more family-like, less restrictive settings, where they can get the services they need in their own community,” said Whittle.
While there is still more work to do to determine the next steps for the foster care system, it was determined early that court continuances are good place to start.
“We’ve been involved with trying create processes to streamline cases that create a smoother more efficient path to permanency, whether that be reunification or termination of parental rights and adoption,” Whittle said.