State and local governments and private agencies have historically shared responsibility for children who are without adequate parental care, children who are victims of abuse or neglect, children with physical or emotional handicaps and children abandoned or otherwise deprived of family life. A variety of programs and specific services have been developed to address the needs of children. Within South Carolina, the Department of Social Services has been designated by the legislature as the public agency responsible for administering child welfare services.
The mission of public child welfare is to maintain or to secure in a timely manner safe, nurturing and permanent living environments for children who are abused or neglected or who are at risk of being abused or neglected. Child welfare services may be defined as social services which:
Over the years, nationally as well as in South Carolina, emphasis on services to children has changed a number of times. Today, focus is on prevention and early detection of problems such as abuse and neglect. The trend is away from institutionalization toward community-based care, away from foster-home care toward in-home preventive casework services with the family and away from permanent foster care toward adoption or independence for older youth.
The early 1980s demonstrated the department?s increased efforts to identify adoption as the permanent plan for children who otherwise might have remained in foster care when return to the biological family was not possible or appropriate. At that time, numerous children were identified for whom adoption was appropriate, and efforts to place these children were largely successful.
As indicated on the above graph, a peak in adoptive placements occurred in FY 1988-89 when the department reorganized its adoption program into a state-administered program and merged with the other public adoption agency in South Carolina, the Children?s Bureau. After that time, adoptive placements became more in line with premerger levels. Overall placements decreased, in part because of the increasing number of children with severe emotional problems. A large number of adoptive placements were delayed because of a backlog in termination of parental rights. With an increased emphasis on freeing children with a plan of adoption, FY ?96 saw an increase in the number of legally free children and an accompanying increase in adoptive placements. This trend continued during FY ?97 when 403 children were placed, and again in FY ?98, when 484 children were placed in adoptive homes.
Regarding adoption, when a child?s return to the biological family is not possible or appropriate, DSS conducts an assessment to determine the most appropriate plan for a child?s permanency. If adoption is best, the child is prepared through counseling and other support services to move into and become a part of a new family. The goal for adoption services is the establishment of permanent placements for children in stable adoptive families.
DSS provides workshops for adoptive family preparation and assessment. Placements are planned and supported through counseling to decrease adjustment problems. DSS supervises and supports the placement throughout the adoption process until legalization (the legal transfer of parental rights.)
Some financial assistance is available to help with adoption expenses and care for children with special needs. The amount of the assistance depends on the needs of the particular child.
Adoption preservation services are available after adoption finalization through the department?s regional adoption offices.
Department of Social Services
P.O. Box 1520
Columbia, SC 29202-1520