SCDSS: More Money, More Failure

PALMETTO STATE’S CHILD “WELFARE” AGENCY IN WORSE SHAPE THAN EVER Two months ago this website reported exclusively on the latest problems at the S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS) – an agency we have relentlessly exposed for a myriad of scandals. As we’ve pointed out on numerous prior occasions, SCDSS has…


Two months ago this website reported exclusively on the latest problems at the S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS) – an agency we have relentlessly exposed for a myriad of scandals.

As we’ve pointed out on numerous prior occasions, SCDSS has been an unmitigated disaster since governor Nikki Haley took office in 2011 – most notably as it relates to instances in which vulnerable children were repeatedly placed in abusive homes.

That problem is ongoing, by the way … as the sad plight of a 21-month-old Upstate girl beaten within an inch of her life earlier this year revealed.

Missed that story?  Serial abuser Robert Steadman broke both of the toddlers’ arms, bit her in the back and buttocks and ripped out chunks of her hair – after SCDSS was specifically warned about his history of abuse and urged to investigate.

On multiple occasions …

No investigation was conducted, though.

Horror stories like that – stories like the brutal death of four-year-old Robert Guinyard Jr. in July 2013 – were what ultimately led to the resignation of Haley’s “rock star” SCDSS director Lillian Koller last June.

It also led to a flood of investigations … and a ton of new taxpayer money so the agency could hire new case workers.

Of course SCDSS was complaining last month that it needed even more money … even as it was blowing an undisclosed amount of tax dollars on a controversial refugee resettlement program.

Earlier this week, one of our sources at the agency tipped us off to another major scandal – this one directly involving new SCDSS director Susan Alford, who was appointed by Haley last December.

According to the source, Alford and her staff were engaged in a deliberate effort to deceive state lawmakers regarding the number of new positions created in response to last year’s scandals.  Specifically, the source accused the agency of moving employees hired on a temporary basis into these new full-time positions – and then eliminating the temporary positions, resulting in a net gain of no new caseworkers.

“They are laughing behind the backs of Senator (Joel) Lourie and Senator (Katrina) Shealy,” the source told us.

Lourie is retiring from the S.C. General Assembly, so FITS reached out to Shealy for comment regarding these allegations – the substance of which she confirmed.

But Shealy said anyone at the agency who is laughing behind her back is in for a rude awakening when they appear before her Senate oversight committee.

“I am making them give me a report every month on the number of staff and their case loads,” Shealy said.

Has the agency provided the information?  Yes, but according to her it is riddled with inaccuracies.

“They tried to give me a made-up list and I made them go back and do the computer-generated list – and the numbers were still bad,” she said.

Shealy has proposed a top-to-bottom reform of SCDSS.  She’s also publicly battled over the agency’s incompetence with Haley, her longtime political ally.

SCDSS received $692 million in the current (FY 2015-16 budget) – an increase of $34 million from the previous fiscal year.  That money was supposed to increase the agency’s full-time staff by nearly 300, thus enabling the agency to better manage its case loads.

Has it, though?

Despite the allegations, Alford is touting her “success” since taking the reins of the agency.

“Upon appointment, Director Alford committed to strengthening the child welfare system in South Carolina,” a statement released by SCDSS earlier this week noted.  “That critical work has already begun by receiving funding to hire 177 additional case workers and 67 caseworker assistants.”


Beyond its ongoing failure to protect the most vulnerable among us, SCDSS is continuing its costly failure with regard to the state’s child support enforcement database.  Oh, and let’s not forget its total lack of follow-through regarding a food stamp waiver touted by Haley in her so-called “war on fat,” as well as questionable consultant payments and allegations of cooked books at its “welfare to work” program and its food stamp system.

(For a recent report detailing one of these scams, CLICK HERE).


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stumpknocker October 1, 2015 at 12:31 pm

dss is so beyond fucked up it will take more than a generation of dedicated public officials to fix it, the voters want a quick fix and people who could do something positive know sc will not give them the time, so why bother

The Colonel October 1, 2015 at 1:37 pm

“SCDSS has been an unmitigated disaster since governor Nikki Haley took office in 2011 its inception in 1937″

There, fixed it for you.

Rakkasan October 1, 2015 at 1:49 pm

OK boss. What should be done?

The Colonel October 1, 2015 at 2:44 pm

I’m assuming you’re not being rhetorical…

Start with hiring a professional, not a politician, to manage the agency.

Case management and case workers are perennial problems for the agency even though they were authorized to hire additional case workers. They’ve failed to fill those positions and the positions thy have filled were (according to my source) filled with marginal employees. Part of the problem is they tend to hire people who would likely end up being clients of DSS otherwise. They have way to many “social work” majors and not nearly enough business, finance and accounting degrees. Case workers need a social degree of some sort – managers don’t, they need to understand how to budget and lead.

Their systems are also woefully inadequate to the task with outdated equipment and software being the rule rather than the exception. (The equipment issue is a state wide problem and in part is because of our rather antiquated procurement programs)

Set some realistic goals and measures for the agency. SCDSS is actually proud of a 30% overdue for hearing rate. They set Wildly Important Goals (WIGS) for child welfare, an apparently “humorous” attempt to stress the most important objectives for the agency vice setting near and long term goals that are clearly defined,specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time constrained like every other well run agency in the world.

Read through the 2013 annual report (the last year published) and see if this looks like a seriously run program to you:

Rakkasan October 1, 2015 at 3:27 pm

No I wasn’t and I’m glad you replied. I agree with most of your points but will suggest a footnote. It’s hard to argue that the leadership/management should have more business skill, or at least business sense. But remember, we’re not talking about high finance here. We’re talking about adding and subtracting. They do understand budgets and budget constraints and goal setting and planning cycles. But, as in some many bureaucratic organizations, the Army included, knowledge and skills sometimes only go so far because so much is beyond your control. I know you can relate to the feeling of holding on while reducing your target to days or a few weeks at best. And, managers do need enough of a social work/social services background to understand the context and rules involved in what they are trying to accomplish. It’s not something you can get in a 2 week training program. Even back 30 years ago the turnover rate for case workers was very high; average tenure about 18 months, and not just because they were marginal employees. It’s extremely difficult work. Lots of dark humor, like “coming to work each day to find out what new name clients give you”. And, it’s not a trivial thing that workers have to go into homes with police escort. It’s not surprising that no one wants to do the work. That is not to diminish your comment one bit. They are in serious need of professionalizing their agency.

The Colonel October 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm

I think that “professionalism” is the thing that is most needed, hence my first point. My point about “finance and bidness” folks is that once you step out of case management, it is about budgets and management. Won’t disagree that the case management managers should be “social work” trained folks (with additional management / leadership training) I didn’t make that clear.

I have a couple of friends there now and “dark humor” is a highly accurate description of their work environment. Both carry all the time as a result of their experiences.

nitrat October 1, 2015 at 7:26 pm

In DSS, you don’t get into ‘budgets’ until the county director level, or their financial subordinate/business manager. And, it’s not much like a real budget. Case worker supervisors and their totally unneeded supervisors, program coordinators, don’t mess with budgets.
If your friends are so scared they ‘carry all the time’, they don’t need to be working at DSS. You have to be more fearless than the average cop to work at DSS human services.
Per marginal employees, there used to be an actual Merit System and you had to pass a real test to get a job there and most state agencies.
40 years ago, DSS had a very diverse (I hate that word) workforce, so the test must not have been discriminatory. My first supervisor at DSS 41 years ago was black.
When the cabinet system came along, the test became just a scoring based on experience. Then, DSS, god help us all, started evaluating applications themselves.
It’s a shame that Katrina Shealy and Joel Lourie and every other legislator do not appear to understand that they replaced a merit based civil service system for pure cronyism when they embraced ‘reorganization’ and the current state of DSS is just one of the results.

The Colonel October 1, 2015 at 7:39 pm

“If your friends are so scared they ‘carry all the time’, they don’t need to be working at DSS You have to be more fearless than the average cop to work at DSS human services.”

You do recognize the irony in what you’ve said here?

One of my contentions is that the mid and upper level management lack the business acumen to efficiently and effectively lead the organization. And you’ve agreed with everything rise I said – I think.

helpusnow October 2, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Haley is responsible for the mid and upper level management. These are her “rock star”‘s people or her new Director’s choices. All roads lead back to Haley. Dead and tortured kids lead right to Haley. We can do so much better but we need our governor’s leadership.

Doris October 1, 2015 at 1:51 pm


RogueElephant October 1, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Could this be where “I’m from the government and I’m here to help .” got started ????

Rakkasan October 1, 2015 at 2:08 pm

No. That was called the Western Expansion. Then, who can forget all the help during Reconstruction? Then, another Top 10 oldie; Japanese internment camps. The hits just keep on coming.

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Fitsfan October 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Alford’s got bad Koller deputies with little expereince. Get them out (Amber should go first) or progress will be impossible. Alford’s got to wonder how she herself ended up running DSS. She’s nice but…
Haley really needs to fix this before she can seriously be considered for Veep. The media will skewer her if she’s on the ticket.

Denozitall October 1, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Agree. Interviewed there in the last year. They had six candidates all of us sitting together in the same room and proceeded to have us all compete against one another for the same job asking us all a series of the same questions. This was a new progressive technique for them which was presented as a new leadership evaluation iniative of the agency. I was thinking maybe they should just get back to good old basic interviewing. That disaster agency trying to be progressive is like expecting a three month old to solve a calculus problem. Dumb ass deputies making shit up as they go. They need to tear it down and start over. And, I didn’t get selected, thank God. I might have actually had to consider taking the job as I was seeking work after a layoff at our plant.

Coventry October 2, 2015 at 7:58 am

All the money in the world could be poured into DSS but
until they are willing to clean house the problems will still exist.
Upper management does not want to know the problems in the counties and
some are afraid to speak out. The only way things will change is to
contact members of the DSS Oversight Committee whether by phone call, visits or letters. You can remain anonymous if you wish. Until the employees let our legislators know what is going on at the county levels nothing will change. If
employees want change they must take some time to make contact with those who
are trying to make a change. I urge every DSS employee – clerical, economic services, CPS, etc- to be proactive and the time to let the DSS Oversight
Committee members to know what really goes at the county level. Contact information is as follows:

Senator Katrina Shealy
502 Gressette Bldg.
Columbia 29201
Phone (803) 212-6108

Senator Joel Lourie
601 Gressette Bldg.
Columbia 29201
Business Phone Phone:(803)212-6116

Senator Tom Young
506 Gressette Bldg.
Columbia 29201
Business Phone (803) 212-6124


#disfunctionaldss October 2, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I am a newly hired worker in Spartanburg. I was astonished on my arrival I had nothing available to me but an empty desk. I sat there with no computer, no phone, no pens, paper, nothing! After being led to my desk I was not given any work to do nor was I assigned to work with anyone. My supervisor introduced herself and told me that I would be helping other workers until I went to training. A couple of my cubicle neighbors introduced themselves and informed me where the bathroom and canteen was located as no one had told me! In the few weeks I have been employed there I have supervised a couple of visits for caseworkers who were busy with other cases and transported some children. Still much of the time I am sitting with nothing to do. I do realize I must attend training before getting a caseload but still, would you not think they could find something for me to do? I have been bored to death for 8 hours a day. No wonder DSS is in a complete mess. What in the world have I gotten myself in to? I am already looking for another J-O-B!

usedToWorkThere October 3, 2015 at 6:15 pm

So, GOP don’t like abortion, but once these kids are born, it’s cheaper to neglect ’em. Or starve ’em, or rape ’em, or let ’em get beat, or Kill ’em, rather than pay for care. Poor kids got no Lobbiest. Nikki got no use for poorkids. Why spend money on DSS. They only look after poor kids and old people. Old people are easy to fuckwith too. You don’t thinkNikki got into this to do something good, do you, stupid? This is about Money. Her money. And she’s got to feed that no count, no work, husband of hers…

beenthere October 7, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Is anyone surprised that DSS is still a mess? You have incompetent Deputy Directors (Hanak-Coulter and others) who have zero experience. The State Director moves them from one program to the other while children and adults suffer statewide. Governor Haley is a fucking idiot and should resign immediately. You have Regional Directors who haven’t a clue. Robert Brimmer is an adulterer and pervert who was fired from the Charleston Center. I would not let him near my dog, much less DSS workers or clients. He needs to be fired immediately. Anyone in Mt. Pleasant who votes for him (City Counsel) needs their head examined.

Susan Awful October 28, 2015 at 1:19 am

SCDSS continues to regress under Susan Alford’s leadership. She is staffing the agency with individuals who have NO child welfare or human services experience, such as newly appointed General Counsel Tony Catone. and Barbara Derrick She is putting “has beens” in key positions, people from Clemson, DJJ, and Continuum of Care, who have never been successful at the other organizations, but that she has a personal connection with and likes. John Shacklefore is an absolute joke! Communication within the management structure and leadership chain is basically non-existant, worse than ever. Hiring staff is more difficult than ever and takes longer than it did a year ago; Barbara has successfully reintroduced gridlock at DSS when it comes to hiring. Employees assume that the Gov put Susan in at DSS just to tread water until her term is over, not expecting any real progress or successes. DSS is at the height of disorganization and inefficiency. DSS is doling out money left and right to group home providers to entice them to keep juvenile delinquents, who should be housed in DJJ facilities and not in foster homes. Then again, Susan gained her fame when she shifted delinquent kids out of the realm of DJJ responsibility and landed them in the lap of DSS. Maybe she is not so incompetent after all! maybe she can figure out how to send them back to DJJ now.


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