It’s been more than three years since former South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) director Lillian Koller resigned in disgrace from her job. The liberal bureaucrat – hailed repeatedly by former governor Nikki Haley as a “rock star” – was an unmitigated disaster as SCDSS leader. On every front imaginable.
Don’t believe us? Read this article …
There were any number of reasons why Koller stepped down (against Haley’s wishes, it’s worth remembering), but arguably the most prominent among them was the sad and shocking tale of Robert Guinyard, Jr. – a four-year-old boy who was placed into an abusive home by SCDSS despite repeated warnings about his safety.
What happened to Guinyard? He was brutally murdered.
One week after Guinyard’s death, this website published a story quoting unnamed sources alleging that the boy “was placed in the home by (SCDSS).”
Not only that, we were told the agency put Guinyard back into the home even though his mother explicitly said she didn’t want him – and even though a relative was attempting to gain custody of the child.
“The aunt of the child was trying to get custody, but the child was beaten to death before that could happen,” a source close to the family told us at the time.
Sadly, the more things change … the more they stay the same.
SCDSS continues to fail both citizens and taxpayers on virtually every front – including complying with a court settlement related to its child welfare case workers.
But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about an even sadder, more shocking story of child welfare negligence that has come to our attention.
And as much as we wish it were otherwise, it certainly appears there is more blood on SCDSS’ hands …
“THREE DAYS …”
On August 21, as millions of South Carolinians were gazing up to the heavens and marveling at the Great American Eclipse – eight-month-old Camden Shaw Kidder was beginning the unspeakably horrific end to his brief and brutally violent stay on our planet.
We don’t know all of the details about his death. Nor do we honestly want to know them. Frankly, we’re not sure we could stomach them based on what those who know them have told us.
Suffice it to say that Baby Camden suffered a catastrophic blunt force trauma to his head on that fateful August afternoon that left him without breath in his lungs and in cardiac arrest. At least that’s how Anderson County paramedics found him upon arriving at the Mahaffey Road residence in Williamston, S.C. where the assault against him took place.
Thirty minutes reportedly elapsed from the time Baby Camden sustained the injury and the time emergency responders were first called …
Who made the call? We don’t know at this point …
We do know Baby Camden was eventually rushed to Greenville Memorial Hospital, arriving there at 8:30 p.m. EDT on the evening of August 21. Three days later – after fighting valiantly against all the evil he endured to remain a member of the human race – he was taken off of life support and pronounced dead.
Think about that for a moment … three days.
After what we are told was months of sustained abuse culminating in this deadly attack against his person, this unbelievably brave, strong, small child fought to stay alive for three days.
You would think he would have given up sooner …
“I don’t even know how they resuscitated him at all,” a source familiar with the situation told us.
This is no unsolved mystery. Far from it.
Charges have already been filed in connection with Baby Camden’s death. His mother, 19-year-old Cheyenne Michelle Otto of Easley, S.C., has been accused of aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse. Meanwhile Otto’s boyfriend, 37-year-old Nathan Lee Roach of Williamston, S.C., has been charged with homicide by child abuse.
Both are currently being held at the Anderson County, S.C. detention center …
(Click to view)
(Via: Anderson County)
If convicted, Roach could face a maximum sentence of anywhere between 20 years to life in prison. Otto is facing a maximum sentence of between 10-20 years.
Additional charges could be filed …
In addition to Otto, Roach and Baby Camden, four other people were in the home at the time of the alleged assault: Roach’s two children from a previous relationship (ages six and eight) and two adults who were living at the residence after being displaced from their home by a fire.
Who knew what, when? Again, at this point we don’t know … and maybe we’ll never know.
Knowing isn’t going to change what happened, either.
“We are heartbroken over this case,” Anderson County sheriff Chad McBride told Fox Carolina at the time. “The detective working this case has said that it is one of the worst cases of child abuse he has seen in his forty years of law enforcement. The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office is committed to seeking justice for baby Camden.”
That’s an admirable sentiment … but where was Baby Camden’s help when it mattered? Where was that “justice” when it might have actually intervened and saved his life?
More importantly, why does this keep happening in South Carolina?
And perhaps most importantly, does our state ever expect these horror stories to end so long as our government keeps perpetuating the underlying problem?
There are dozens of painful but absolutely necessary questions that must be asked in this case … and we’re not just talking about the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Anderson County sheriff’s department, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the aforementioned “child welfare” agency.
The death of Baby Camden demands that we go much deeper than that …
“THEY MISSED ALL THE SIGNS”
According to sources familiar with this ongoing investigation, as many as eleven separate child welfare investigations were initiated into Roach by SCDSS. The final investigation was reportedly concluded less than a month before Baby Camden’s death.
“Eleven investigations and he still has his kids?” one Upstate children’s advocate familiar with the case told us. “How?”
That’s a good question … unfortunately, as is the case with all of our inquiries, SCDSS refused to respond to us for this report.
A twelfth SCDSS investigation – one focused on Otto, not Roach – was also launched, ultimately determining that child abuse allegations against her were “unfounded.”
Still, we’re told numerous pieces of evidence were missed by SCDSS during the course of their various investigations of Roach and Otto. We’re also told the agency’s many inquiries into Roach’s alleged abuse of his two biological children failed to account for the possibility that he might harm – or may have previously harmed – Baby Camden.
If SCDSS is investigating allegations involving one child, it has an obligation under the law to look after the wellbeing of any other children living under the same roof as the alleged abuser.
“They have an obligation to check all the kids in the home,” one source familiar with the investigation told us. “If they had looked at the child, they would have found injuries. There are numerous photos of him with bruises all over his face.
Not only that, we’re told SCDSS had those photos in its possession.
Also, this spring Baby Camden was taken to the emergency room by his mother after reportedly vomiting blood – but was taken away without being seen. That in and of itself might not have been enough to raise a red flag, but in the aftermath of the aborted emergency room visit Baby Camden wasn’t taken to his six-month well checkup.
“They missed all the signs,” our source said. “You can’t tell me that they really investigated that case. This kid was tortured the last four to five months of his life. He was covered in bruises for months.”
In fact, on the day of the eclipse Roach took Baby Camden to Cedar Grove elementary – a government-run school in Williamston. Several sources at the school observed bruising on the child’s face.
At multiple stages of his life, Baby Camden’s injuries were evident – or should have been evident – to those tasked with ensuring his well-being.
Still, he died one of the most brutal deaths any adult could fathom – let alone endure. And he endured it as an eight-month-old child.
How on earth were any of these children allowed to reman in the custody of these “parents?”
“Most SCDSS workers and attorneys are livid,” our source told us. “They all know what happened here.”
“ONE SIZE FITS ALL …”
So … what happened?
As much as this website has slammed SCDSS in the past – and deservedly so – the agency’s negligence isn’t the only issue in this case. A big part of the problem is the broken structure into which its overworked, underpaid social workers are plunged.
“You take uneducated – I mean young, naive, untrained caseworkers – and basically make them an ‘expert’ in child services,” a source familiar with SCDSS’ process told us. “They easily put in sixty hours a week and are paid nothing.”
As we’ve previously noted, state lawmakers approved massive funding increases for hundreds of new child welfare caseworkers in the aftermath of our reporting on the Guinyard murder four years ago. Beyond all of these new hires, SCDSS has been told it must spend an additional $30-40 million more per year to hire an additional 700 child welfare caseworkers.
And that’s just to remain in compliance with a settlement agreement from a 2015 federal court case, Michelle H. v. Haley.
Will all of this new money and manpower – assuming it materializes – make a difference? Sadly, probably not. It certainly hasn’t yet.
One complicating factor? South Carolina’s antiquated view on “family values.”
As it stands now, the Palmetto State’s code of laws is grounded in an unswerving conviction that best interests of all children are served when they are reunited with their biological parents – or their blood relatives. This prevailing view mitigates all sorts of aggravating factors that would otherwise lead to vastly different decisions on behalf of the children.
“The code is built on that legal principle,” our source explained. “The law presumes that best interest of the child is best served by reuniting them with their family or placing them with biological relatives. It’s just not, though.”
This institutionally mandated rigidity is similar to the flawed, cookie cutter approach adopted by the Palmetto State’s worst-in-the-nation government-run school system.
“The statute is one size fits all – rehabilitate the family and send the kids back,” our source said. “They do everything possible to NOT place the child in foster care.”
That’s true … partly because SCDSS’ efforts to expand its foster care community have been a costly, unqualified failure. Like everything else the agency touches.
“You cannot rehabilitate a pedophile,” our Upstate children’s advocate told us. “It can’t be done. Yet, the statutes require that SCDSS give the molester a treatment program, and if they complete it, the child goes home to a smarter pedophile.”
Or a smarter abuser …
“The fundamental problem with SCDSS is the way the legislature wrote the children’s code,” our source explained. “Their goal is to reunite families whenever possible. Every time. No matter how many times.”
Even if that means needlessly (and in some cases, recklessly) placing children like Baby Camden in harm’s way …
Until this underlying dynamic changes, nothing is going to change – no matter how much money gets dumped into the system. No matter how many caseworkers are hired by SCDSS. And no matter how experienced those caseworkers wind up being. As with so many other problems in South Carolina, until the structure is fixed positive outcomes will remain elusive. Meaning additional taxpayer investment will only prove counterproductive.
Speaking of taxpayer investment, SCDSS received $734.6 million in the fiscal year that began on July 1 – an increase of three percent from the previous fiscal year, which itself saw an increase of three percent from the fiscal year before that.
And the cycle will likely repeat again next year …
But this case is more than numbers. Bigger than budgets. It is deeper than dissecting departments or blasting bureaucrats and politicians for their chronic, increasingly expensive failures. It is an unspeakable – and completely avoidable – tragedy. A savage inhumanity that never should have been allowed to happen.
Unfortunately, it is inhumanity that will continue happening in South Carolina until our state’s leaders learn how to actually solve problems instead of just throwing more money at them.
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