The South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) provided an update to lawmakers this week on the status of thousands of “missing” children within the Palmetto State’s government-run school system – long regarded as one of the nation’s worst.
SCDSS was tasked two months ago by the S.C. Senate ReOpenSC select committee to “help locate students who were unengaged with schools during the period of school closure” from mid-March through the first week of June 2020.
Schools in South Carolina were shut down by governor Henry McMaster on March 15, 2020 due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. McMaster is currently pushing – with some success – to have them reopened for the fall.
The governor has argued – not entirely without merit – that reopening schools is beneficial to student safety.
According to a memo from the agency’s director, Michael Leach, SCDSS has been “working to find these students.”
The agency received data on July 22, 2020 from the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) which – after revisions and addendums – eventually produced a list of 3,234 children or youths “to be contacted.”
Of these, 152 children/ youths had an open case with the social services agency – which has been blasted in the past for its handling of child welfare cases (but appears to be making some progress on that front under its new director).
Over the last three weeks, SCDSS – working in conjunction with numerous local law enforcement assets – have made contact with a total of 2,295 children on the list. That’s 70.9 percent of the total number of “unengaged” children/ youths. It is also well above the 529 contacts reported by the agency on August 12, 2020 – not bad for a week’s worth of work.
According to SCDSS, 159 of the children/ youth on the list provided by SCDE have moved from the address on file. Meanwhile, a total of 409 children/ youth remain unaccounted for.
Per the agency, parents/ guardians offered any number of reasons for failing to make contact with government-run schools on behalf of their children/ youth during the pandemic.
Here are some of the most common responses:
- No available computer/device
- No available internet service or difficulty accessing provided internet service
- Students/parents did not have knowledge on how to complete the material, or described the material as too difficult
- Parent difficulty teaching multiple differing-aged children while working full-time
- Difficulty contacting teachers for assistance/difficulty contacting schools for technical assistance
- No transportation to pick-up or drop-off work packets
- Language/Translation barriers – work packets were provided in English to Spanish speaking families
“(SC)DSS staff and local law enforcement have conducted diligent efforts, which consist of multiple attempted home visits and attempted phone contacts, to all information provided by the Department of Education,” the memo to lawmakers noted. “These diligent efforts have been unsuccessful in leading to face to face contact with these children/ youth.”
“Visits by local county-based teams are currently being conducted,” the memo goes on to say. “Teams are made up of both (SC)DSS staff and local law enforcement. Visits are being conducted as well check visits with the goal of placing eyes on the child.”
According to the agency, it plans on continuing its efforts and providing an updated report to lawmakers the first week of September.
Here is the memo …
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