DSS in need of nearly 2,000 foster homes; parents frustrated with dept.

DSS recruits new foster parents year-round, but keeping foster parents in the system can be a challenge.
Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 6:55 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2023 at 7:32 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The most recent data suggests the South Carolina Department of Social Services needs around 2,000 more foster homes to keep up with demand. Despite the total number of cases declining slightly over the last few years, nearly half of the cases are in need of placement homes.

DSS recruits new foster parents year-round, but keeping foster parents in the system can be a challenge. Not only does the home need to be suitable for the child, but the adults fostering those kids need to be prepared to deal with difficult cases, whether that be behavioral or medical.

Lenora Davis has been fostering children for 20 years – she estimates she’s fostered more than 200 kids.

“I have a passion for taking care of kids. Well, my Husband and I have a passion for taking care of kids,” Davis said.

She and her husband have taken in children of all ages but in the last few years, they have focused exclusively on children with disabilities and those who are medically fragile. For her, it’s more than just a task, it’s a calling.

“We have a young man that had cancer. He lived with us for two years and then he was put in hospice. We, instead of putting him into hospice home, we allow him to pathway here. We took care of him here into the end,” Davis said.

While Davis has taken some of the most difficult cases – Experts say it’s actually quite common for foster children to have behavioral challenges, often stemming from trauma associated with their original home.

“They are at their lowest point, maybe they haven’t experienced neglect or abuse and to really, you know, celebrate foster parents and recognize the really important role that they have in our society,” DSS Director of Communications and External Affairs Connelly-Ann Ragley said.

No one knows the struggle of dealing with challenging children better than foster parent Karlinda Myers. While Myers is prepared to deal with behavioral problems, she says she shouldn’t be frustrated by dealing with DSS.

“They don’t want to help me. But I feel they should help me because it was not my child. She was under my care particular time but she’s not my child,” Myers said.

Myers has fostered dozens of kids over the last 30 years, usually taking on children under the age of 10, but over the winter holidays, the department called and asked her to take on a teenager. She went out of her way to provide the child with a place to stay. She was repaid by the child stealing her car and crashing it.

“I keep my car keys in my kitchen up on a key ring hook and evidently, she took the keys and went for a drive,” Myers said. “She went out on the streets. I don’t know where she went. Wrecked my vehicle. Came back, tried to back it up under the carport like how I keep it. Couldn’t do it.”

The Department of Social Services said they will pay for some damage incurred by the foster children, but not all – including damage to vehicles. The department said laws prevent them from covering the total cost of car-related damage.

In a statement, the department of social services said foster parents are compensated for agreeing to take in children. They said more than $30,000 has been given to Myers since 2016, which is supposed to help pay for car insurance.

“...the most effective and efficient way forward is that the foster parent makes a first-party claim on their own automobile insurance... and DSS can pay up to an additional $500 of the deductible,” the statement reads.

When asked how she felt about the agency not covering the full cost of damage to her car, Myers said she was shocked.

“I am not going to use my insurance,” Myers said. “I have full coverage for the home and for my vehicle but don’t want to use my insurance because I don’t want my premium to go up. I don’t want to pay a high premium.”

Myer’s case is unique, but the feeling of abandonment from DSS – is not.

Katherine Noto runs Attach Families Inc., a non-profit connected to more than 10,000 foster families that helps get them the resources they need like therapists to address behavioral issues.

“You’re having one-and-done foster families instead of families that will foster over and over and over again because they’re not getting the support they need with these children who have such severe behaviors,” Noto said.

That’s being drawn out in the data. Myers says she’s now reconsidering being a foster parent after her incident.

Whether it’s DSS’s own foster parent associations in each county, Noto’s Attach Families Inc., or another group, Davis says having a support network is critical. Davis has no issues with DSS, but when she does have an issue, she turns to the non-profit organization South Carolina Youth Advocate Program that helps place children in her care.

“You have to have a good support system and patients my husband, my older children, they help with that,” Davis said. “The agency is our backbone, also the therapists, psychiatrists, the hospitals, and the school, and it’s very important to be in contact with all those people, and they will help with the issues that will arise.

The agency recognizes that foster care is difficult which is why they’re also working creatively. In the last four years, they’ve doubled down on kinship care. In kinship care, children are placed with an adult already close to the child. That could be a family member, a teacher, a family friend or neighbor.

In 2019, just 6% of children in the system were in kinship care. Today, 24% of all kids are being placed with people they already have a relationship with.