Spartanburg Co. family awarded $3.75 million for DSS failures

SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) – A Spartanburg Co. family has been awarded $3.75 million after a jury found that South Carolina Department of Social Services failed to investigate the danger to a child.

On March 23rd, a Spartanburg County jury ruled in favor of the grandmother of Baby Girl Smith.

That grandmother called SCDSS multiple times to investigate that Smith was in danger while living with her mother and and the mother’s live-in boyfriend.

The grandmother was worried about the child being abused and neglected, and complained to DSS twice over the phone and once in person.

The grandmother also reported that the boyfriend, Robert Steadman, had a history of domestic violence, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Steadman was arrested and admitted to felony child abuse and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

The jury did award the grandmother $3.75 million, but will be capped at the South Carolina Tort Claims judgement against the state.

Heather Hite Stone said that “had SCDSS investigated this matter they could have prevented the abuse that this poor baby had to suffer.  We are pleased that the jury stood up for this child.”

The lawsuit was brought by two law firms, Hite and Stone of Abbeville and Greenville, S.C. and the Foster Care Abuse Law Firm of Manning, S.C.

DSS released the following statement:

“The abuse inflicted on Baby Girl Smith in 2013 is a heartbreaking tragedy. It underscores the need for the entire child welfare community—child protective services, law enforcement, the courts, private partners, child advocates, and medical professionals—to stay vigilant in our responses to children who are at risk so that tragedies like this one can be avoided. For DSS, this requires that child welfare intake and assessment practices are continuously examined and improved, so that investigations are initiated in proportion to the level of risk to a child. In early 2015, with new leadership in the Department and increased resources approved by the General Assembly, work commenced to implement more consistent assessment practices through the Department’s new regional intake hubs, and county offices. As a result, significantly more abuse and neglect allegations now meet the test for investigation, as opposed to screening out for community intervention. The number of intake decisions in 2013 was 32,039; that number has almost doubled, to 53,126 in 2016. DSS will continue to strengthen its intake and assessment processes, and the General Assembly is supporting that effort through the funding of intake hub staff, second and third shift caseworkers, and child protective services caseworkers.”

 

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