SOUTH CAROLINA (WSPA) –The South Carolina Department of Social Services data on Foster Care Services currently has more than 4,400 children in foster care. The departments State Director, Michael Leach, said the COVID-19 pandemic held up important meetings, court dates, and licensing opportunities.
“We brought leadership in one Saturday night and we were there till 3 or 4 a.m. just really working on, ‘Let’s change this process, let’s change this protocol’,” Leach said.
He noted at one point, since courts were shut down and licensing applications were typically a face-to-face process, almost everything that wasn’t an emergency stopped.
“We’ve had to adjust every day since, because of new executive orders, or understanding what best practice may look like. As we’ve learned from other states, or other jurisdictions,” Leach explained.
Courtney and Myron Brubacher had started their foster parent licensing application back in September. But when they turned in the last of their paperwork, COVID caused major delays.
“We understand people are working from home. Things are going to take longer to process,” Courtney Brubacher said, “It’ll happen when everyone gets a chance to do it.”
Leach explained that the Brubachers are one of 540 families DSS has had to place in a longer application process.
Those foster family applications, along with the department’s 6,000 family preservation cases and 3,000 open investigations showcase how much the department handles regularly and a lot had to be placed on hold.
“We are an under-resourced system, meaning we didn’t have enough of the staff and funding for programs we needed prior of COVID. It’s highlighted some of our weaknesses and emphasized some of our weaknesses,” Leach said.
But after a month of mainly focusing on emergency calls and dealing with urgent placement needs, he said the system as a whole is slowly starting to move forward.
“We continue, business continues. We just have to adapt as quickly as possible mostly with the virtual means,” Leach said, “we still take calls, we still are doing investigations. Our investigations team across the state goes out and are still doing face to faces.”
He noted one major change, the number of calls reporting suspected abuse and neglect have gone down by at least half.
“Close to 55% of calls, a decrease in the call volume. A lot of that is to do with children being out of school. Teachers are our eyes and ears and a referral source,” Leach said.
But there has been forward movement since mid April, he explained, some children left DSS custody and went back to their families. Also, the department hosted its first virtual adoption Friday, April 17.
“This work is hard but I encourage everyone to be patient,” Leach said.
With courts slowly opening back up virtually, SC DSS is readjusting to more online means.
The foster care licensing process, was primarily in person, on average would take between 90 to 120 days. But with social distancing and online programs in place, the process could take up to 135 days.
“Stay the course and don’t get discouraged and it’s all for a good cause. It may take longer than expected, but in the end it’s going to be worth the wait,” Burbacher said.
Once their final paperwork is complete, this will be the family of five’s second time as a foster family. After the Brubachers moved to South Carolina, they decided to get their foster license again.
Their three boys, Talan, Pryce and Coye, are fans of helping a family in need, just like their parents.
“They’re excited about it. You know, our 9-ear-old keeps saying, ‘So, when do we have another child come here?’ He’s asking because he’s looking forward to somebody to play with,” Myron Brubacher laughed.
Although Leach said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a huge disruption to his department, it has force them to find a few new, efficient ways to work the system online.
“These are all things we were thinking about, and maybe starting to do. But, it has really pushed us to utilize this stuff more often and more readily now. I think it’s going to be better for the system,” Leach said.