By Robert Kittle
South Carolina’s Department of Social Services is trying to hire more caseworkers to lighten caseloads, but hiring enough people is proving difficult. Acting-director Amber Gillum told a state Senate DSS Oversight subcommittee Thursday that the agency has hired 250 more people but lost 139 existing workers, for a net gain of 111.
“It’s a bump up from where we were last time. I wish it was more, but I think we’re making progress,” she told senators.
But they’re worried about the slow progress and how many people the agency is losing. Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, told Gillum to look into why so many people are leaving. “Are they going to another agency? Are they leaving because they’re retiring? Are they leaving because they’re overworked, depressed, sad, mad? Why are they leaving? Because it’s kind of like in some places we’re going backwards,” she said.
She cited some counties that have lost more people than they’ve gained, including Anderson County, which had 8 new hires but 11 people leave.
The subcommittee also heard from the director of a medical team that investigates child abuse in the state. Dr. Olga Rosa told senators the state needs to have a centralized system for handling phone calls reporting abuse or neglect, because the current system discourages would-be reporters.
Right now, state law says an abuse report must be made to DSS or law enforcement, depending on whether the suspected abuser is a relative. Rosa told senators that means people often don’t know who to call, and they’re sometimes even told to call someone else.
Gillum says a statewide hotline will be working by February. But while that system will have one phone number statewide, it will still have six regional hubs. Sen. Shealy wants one centralized system. She’s pre-filed a DSS reform bill that includes that.
She says of the current system, “You might not get the nerve up to call back the second time, or if you’re going in the closet to call and come back out or somebody’s getting abused, you might not want to try it again. So I think if you do it one time and you can get it all done in that first call, you need to go ahead and get it done. So I think the one centralized line is the best way to go.”