Right now there are needy kids in South Carolina group homes because frustrated foster families can’t cut through the red tape. Willing families who try to foster or adopt sometimes give up because of long delays and conflicting information from multiple state agencies.
South Carolina, there the Department of Social Services is the state’s official “adoption agency”, still struggles with a serious shortage of foster families.
Experts told 7 News the delays come, in part, because that single agency does not control the entire adoption process, instead relying on other unrelated agencies where adoptions appear to be a lower priority.
Before DSS approves any foster or adoptive family, regulations require a “health inspection” and, for children younger than 6 who live in homes built before 1978, that includes a test for lead paint.
Those inspections are important because lead poisoning can lower a child’s IQ and in some case can be deadly.
Lead paint was banned decades ago but is still present in millions of homes built before 1978. The threat to children comes from the paint dust or from chipped or cracked paint.
Nobody at the Department of Social Services is certified to conduct the required lead inspections so the agency contracts with D-HEC for $171,000 per year.
D-HEC has no regulations related to foster or adoptive inspections and instead relies on the regulations and procedures devised by DSS.
Parents waiting for a lead test may wait for months. D-HEC has only three people certified to inspect for lead. All of them are based in Columbia and one of the three works part time.
Todd Stephens and his wife went through the lead inspection twice. They fostered and then adopted two little girls. Each process involved a separate lead inspection process. None of the lead inspectors is dedicated solely to the DSS adoption process.
Stephens said the associated delays caused many frustrated parents to abandon their dreams of growing a new family.
“I know for a fact, there’s a family out there who had adopted before, they wanted to adopt again and they were stopped because of the lead inspection,” Stephens said.
“We have had that happen,” said DSS foster licensing director Jacqueline Shuler Lowe.
Lowe said the agency is well aware of some long delays, not all of them related to lead testing. She said the agency has a good relationship with the “partner agencies” who assist with the adoption and foster process.
“Those particular agencies are either experts in what they do or there is a requirement or mandate for those particular agencies to perform those functions,” Lowe said.
Senator Mike Fair, chairman of the state’s Joint Citizens Committee on Children said he was well aware of the inter-agency delays.
“If the paint is found for example it might be four months before they go back and make that change in that house that must occur,” Fair said.
On Wednesday, Fair said the concerns raised by the 7News investigation prompted him to call a hearing with lawmakers, DSS and DHEC. He said the agency explained the process and now his committee would look for solutions to the lead inspection problem.