State social services officials are reviewing how caseworkers perform background checks when placing children after Rock Hill police said the agency did not request one for a convicted felon who later was charged with abusing his 8-year-old nephew.
This case revealed our need to improve how we do background checks in these situations, said Marilyn Matheus, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services. We have recently been working with the Rock Hill Police Department on specific procedures to follow and training for our staff related to criminal history background checks.
DSS did not take formal custody of the boy when he was taken from his fathers home in May after the father was charged with abusing him.
Instead, a caseworker agreed on a safety plan with the boys mother and father that temporarily placed him in the care of his uncle, Matheus told The Herald last week.
The uncle spent time in prison in 1995 for assault and battery with intent to kill after he pleaded guilty to throwing a concrete brick at a 21-year-old Rock Hill man, hitting him in the head and causing serious brain damage and two strokes.
The uncle was sentenced to 18 years in prison, but was released in 2006. In October, he, too, was charged with abusing the boy.
The Herald is not naming any family members involved in the case to protect the boys identity.
DSS only had an intervention role in the case, Matheus said, instead of actually taking custody of the child. DSS kinship placement policy lets the family recommend relatives who can take care of their children when theyre taken from a home, officials say.
The child never left his family, Matheus said. The family knows more about family members than DSS.
Before those relatives take custody of the child, DSS is supposed to conduct federal, state and local criminal background checks on them and check to see if theyre listed on a sex offender registry, said Kathleen McLean-Titus, DSS human services coordinator.
In all cases, caseworkers should refer to a potential custodians federal, state and local criminal background, Matheus said.
DSS initially told The Herald that a caseworker performed preliminary checks on the boys uncle, which looked at his criminal history with the Rock Hill Police Department and York County Sheriffs Office. Records at both agencies didnt show the mans criminal activities from the 1990s, she said.
But Lt. Brad Redfearn with the Rock Hill Police Department said this week that there was no criminal history requested through our agency for that person through DSS.
York County Clerk of Court David Hamilton, whose office performs criminal background checks for the sheriffs office, said he would not immediately release information about whether DSS submitted such a request with the county.
Its more than likely, Matheus said, that disciplinary action was taken against the caseworker who didnt do the complete checks, but she declined to discuss what that action might have been, calling it a personnel matter.
DSS has evidence that Rock Hill Police did share some type of information on (the uncle) with DSS, Matheus said. It is unclear what type of inquiry was made and when it was made.
Police did give DSS two years worth of incident reports on the uncle, Redfearn said.
A worker made an error when requesting information from the public records index before the placement, so the conviction did not show up, Matheus said.
The public records index, which catalogues criminal charges and convictions, is made available to the public through the state Judicial Department.
We are not satisfied that our staff thoroughly evaluated the criminal background of the uncle, Matheus said. We deeply regret this oversight.
The Herald found the uncles felony conviction by checking records with the State Law Enforcement Division and the state Judicial Department. Both resources display the uncles assault and battery charge and later conviction.
DSS is still reviewing information about inquiries our staff made, Matheus said.
When DSS requests criminal history checks with the police department, Redfearn said, police turn to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computerized storehouse offered to law enforcement through the FBI. Such checks return a persons entire criminal record throughout the course of his lifetime.
Police agencies enter information into NCICs database, and that data remains there indefinitely.
State DSS officials began investigating the county offices handling of the case after receiving questions from The Herald. That investigation, Matheus said, included scrutinizing the steps officials took when they first responded to the childs home in May.
When abused children are taken out of a home, social services agents should place them with relatives when possible to avoid foster care placement, according to guidelines at the Childrens Law Office at the University of South Carolina School Of Law.
Certain factors, such as child protective services history and state and federal criminal background checks, cannot be waived, DSS guidelines state.
If a potential custodian has any kind of crime against a person on his record, Matheus said, DSS policy prohibits workers from leaving the child with that person unless the charge has been expunged, or if the criminal allegations dont indicate an inability to take care of children.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082
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