S.C. lawmakers acted to meet a crucial need when they gave approval to expand a call-in system to report child abuse. But now, with the prospect of many more cases of abuse and neglect being reported, the Legislature needs to provide the money to ensure that children are examined by trained pediatricians.
Last year, roughly 4 in 5 children in the state who should have been evaluated by a child abuse specialist went without being examined. With the expansion of the call-in system, the number or reports of child abuse are expected to spike dramatically.
The Department of Social Services, which oversees the program, has taken steps to prepare for the expected increase. Under the guidance of DSS Director Susan Alford, appointed by former Gov. Nikki Haley in 2014 to lead the troubled agency, DSS will add hundreds of workers to handle added child abuse cases.
But the state still has a severe shortage of child abuse pediatricians, especially in rural communities. The S.C. Children’s Advocacy Medical Response System, which conducts the examinations, has only about two dozen doctors in its network statewide.
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Officials with the Response System are asking legislators to almost double funding for the system to $1.4 million. The money would be used to train more doctors and better reimburse doctors in the system for expenses they incur that are not paid by insurance.
This does not represent a radical increase in funding. It merely would return funding to what it was in 2008, when it was chopped to $690,000 during the recession. Last year, the state gave the program $750,000.
The state needs to be able to identify and find help for children who have been abused or neglected. It is unacceptable that as many as 80 percent of children who could have benefited from a medical evaluation by a child abuse pediatrician went unchecked.
South Carolina has upgraded the system for reporting cases of child abuse. It has increased the number of caseworkers to investigate and find safe havens for abused children.
Now lawmakers need to step up and ensure that enough medical professionals are available to examine and identify children who have suffered potentially life-threatening abuse.