DSS-SCA recent review of reports from South Carolina’s Department of Social Services revealed that “the number of complaints of child abuse and neglect received by the agency went from 27,370 in 2012 to 30,950 in 2014 and 40,463 in 2015. The number of investigations in child abuse and neglect, meanwhile, jumped from 13,218 in 2012 to 16,501 in 2014 and 23,347 last year.” State officials understandably concerned by the spikes in these and other related numbers. Their oversight committee has been investigating the issues closely over the last three years.

DSS Director Susan Alford reported that the increase in reports is likely a result of the new “intake hubs” that have been set up across the state, part of a regional system for receiving calls and reports of abuse and neglect. She gave this comment to the The Greenville News last week:

From our review of the data, what we know is that implementation of intake hubs is producing what we want—an increase in calls received, and an increase in our screening of reports of abuse and neglect,” she said. “We don’t want to miss a report. What we have to be careful of is maintaining our staffing levels to support that increase—we need to assure we have adequate numbers of highly trained intake workers, to do timely and effective screening of incoming calls, and we need to retain enough caseworkers to manage increased caseloads.

The data that DSS has collected is giving some strong indications as to the root causes of the spike in reports and finds that “biggest single type of investigation is neglect and risk of neglect, followed by physical abuse and risk of physical abuse…” According to Sue Williams, executive director of the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, an organization which focuses on child abuse and neglect prevention, it’s possible that the numbers are reporting high because the new DSS reporting system (including the intake hubs) is finding more cases than previous methods of reporting. She addresses the fact that across the entire U.S. the levels of abuse in states are consistent. In SC, the numbers spike and dip. Right now, it’s spiking. Children’s Trust is looking not just at the data that reveals the increasing numbers of reports, but also for reasons behind the spikes and how to address the factors that contribute to the increased abuse and neglect, not the least of which is poverty.

We have a lot of people who are under-employed, who are struggling to make ends meet,” Williams said. “Tensions are high and they are trying to meet basic needs for their family. Neglect accounts for way more kids coming into the system and a lot of that can be related to the effects of poverty.

Sen. Tom Young, an Aiken Republican and chairman of the DSS oversight committee, said he believes the primary issue behind abuse and neglect is generational poverty.

The states that annually rank high in that report from Kids Count are states that have an educated work force, more students graduating from high school on time and higher paying jobs than South Carolina. Many problems we face in the state in this area are the result of generational poverty. The big picture is that improving the overall educational attainment of our state’s citizens is critical to address issues related to abuse and neglect but also other problems that stem from generational poverty in South Carolina.

The whole article is a fascinating breakdown of both the data and of the discussions that the state of South Carolina is having to understand and address the many factors that contribute to those numbers. Also included in the article is information from the Kids Count report that we shared last month.