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SC child death numbers under legislative review

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

South Carolina children have died at an average rate of 13 each month between January and August 31 of this year. Of those deaths, 41 were cases that involved the state's child protection agency. Those numbers have gotten some lawmakers' attention.

During a public hearing of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children Thursday night, lawmakers and the head of the state's Department of Social Services listened as statistics involving deaths of the state's children were made public. Those statistics came from Laura Hudson, a member of the State Child Fatality Advisory Committee.

Hudson has spent the past month inside the State Law Enforcement Division reviewing child death cases the agency is currently investigating and cases that where investigations have ended. The review looked at cases in SLED's Child Fatality Unit between January 2009 and August 31, 2013.

CHILD DEATH BY THE NUMBERS

The State Child Fatality Review Committee's findings show SLED currently has 472 child death cases open and at different stages of investigation, according to Laura Hudson. Those cases are referred to SLED if a county coroner determines there are suspicious circumstances in the cause of death of a child.

Here are the top ten counties by number of child death cases that have been referred to SLED since 2009:

-Richland: 84

-Spartanburg: 72

-Greenville: 66

-Charleston: 63

-Lexington: 53

-Berkeley: 38

-Horry: 37

-Florence-York: 34

-Aiken: 28

-Anderson-Beaufort: 23

CHILD DEATH WITH DSS INVOLVMENT

"We've let them down and we've got work to do," Richland County Senator Joel Lourie told the committee Thursday night, referring to the job the state's Department of Social Services has done with abuse and neglect cases that turned deadly. Hudson's review of SLED's child death cases also included a look at how many of those involved some sort of involvement by DSS.

Since 2009, of the 472 child death cases referred to SLED for investigation, Hudson's review found 312 had some sort of DSS involvement before the child died. That involvement means DSS conducted some sort of "screening process" of the parents and placement of a child after a report of abuse and neglect.  In these cases, the child was placed back into a home, foster care or the alleged abuse and neglect was "unfounded."

The following list is the number of cases with DSS involvement of the top 10 counties with the highest number of suspicious child deaths:

-Richland: 31

-Spartanburg: 28

-Greenville: 28

-Charleston: 27

-Lexington: 17

-Berkeley: 13

-Horry: 13

-Florence: 10

-York: 13

-Aiken: 12

-Anderson: 7

-Beaufort: 2

"We were warned in nearly 40 percent of these cases that there was a real problem going on; significant enough to be reported and that even after the report was made, these children died," Orangeburg County Senator Brad Hutto asked Hudson. Hutto promised to work with the legislature to reform the practices in how DSS screens abuse reports.

"We have to have full time, dedicated intake workers" assigned to each county to handle abuse and/or neglect cases, DSS Director Lillian Koller told the committee. "They can't wear multiple hats," Koller said. "It's a special skill that has to be developed and you can't really share that with other tasks," Koller told the committee.

PUBLIC HEARINGS

The committee's job is to offer recommendations to the legislature and to the governor's office on child welfare issues. The committee has two more public hearings scheduled and encourages the public to attend and speak during the hearings. A final report from the committee will come after the public meetings are finished.

Here is the schedule for the final two hearings:

GREENVILLE

Tuesday October 8, 2013
5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Greenville County Council Chambers
361 University Ridge
Greenville, SC 29601

CHARLESTON

Monday, October 14, 2013
5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Trident Technical College
7000 Rivers Ave., North Charleston, SC 29406
The College Center in the 920 Building, Salons A - E

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