Live 5 News Investigates: Foster parent home inspection process under fire
SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - A new report is critical of South Carolina for placing too many foster children in group homes. But a young couple in Summerville willing to become foster parents says it is nearly impossible to become a licensed foster parent in this state.
Ashton and Taylor Lethco live in a five-bedroom home in an upscale Summerville neighborhood. The young couple hoped to offer loving care to foster children. But the first test to pass in the application process was their windows.
When Ashton contacted an agency to apply to become a foster parent, she said she was told, "We'll send you an application, but first you may want to measure your windows." She didn't think the windows in their home would be a problem. "I said, I think it'll be okay."
The couple understood that prospective foster parents face scrutiny, and so do their homes. But the Lethcos' home, to their surprise, did not pass the inspection: their windows needed to be changed.
The Lethcos were so committed to having a child, they came up with $1,200 to change out one set of second story windows on the back of their home, in order to become licensed foster parents.
Now with a new double window in their back bedroom, a foster child has found a loving home with the couple.
That child is one of the lucky ones. A brand new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says too many kids in this country end up in group homes. When a child is removed from a family in the United States, 14 percent go to group homes, according to the foundation. In South Carolina, that number is 23 percent, the study found, ranking our state seventh-highest in placing children in group homes.
Lethco says their foster child has a sibling who is in a group home. The couple would love to have that child as well, but sharing a room in this case isn't allowed. So once again, windows are the hold-up.
Lethco says she asked the fire marshal's inspector to look at the front bedroom when he came to inspect the new back bedroom window, as well as the newly installed interconnecting smoke detectors.
She was hoping there was a chance the front bedroom with its smoke detector, would pass inspection, too.
"It didn't work on this front bedroom," she explained. "So he approved us for the one bedroom on the back of the house where we had changed the windows," Lethco said.
The Lethcos aren't the only ones dealing with this window issue. The president of the South Carolina Foster Parents Association said he was assured during a meeting with the State Fire Marshall that the regulations are changing.
Those standards, Lethco says, need to be changed.
"It's nearly impossible to become a licensed foster parent in South Carolina," she contends.
The State Fire Marshall says revised regulations have gone through the state house and senate and should become effective by July 1. Under those new regulations prospective foster parents will have a choice, meet window size, or a have fire sprinkler system, or have inter-connected smoke detector.
The Lethcos have an inter-connected smoke detector in their vacant front bedroom.
The State Fire Marshall says if the Lethcos ask for another inspection, they would have 90 days to comply with the old regulations. But before those 90 days run out, the new regulations should be in place. That means the front bedroom should be approved.
Lethco still worries that too many prospective foster parents have given up, stopping the application process when they learned of the window requirement. She's urging any of you who gave up on fostering children, to apply now that regulations are changing.
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