Thursday, August 25, 2011

Foster care in South Carolina: Three good Samaritans vs. one bad agency

Last week, Janice Dowd, a 51-year-old grandmother in York, South Carolina, was found living with her seven-year-old grandson in a tent in the woods.  Here’s how it happened, according to the Rock Hill, S.C. Herald:

Dowd, who is unemployed, became homeless after her rent and utility bills forced her out of a rental home she could not afford.

After she could no longer stay with a family member and later the same friend who notified police about the tent in the woods, Dowd did not have the money to turn on the lights at a public housing apartment in [the town of] Clover.

Without the money for utilities, Dowd was not allowed to move in.  Fortunately, three total strangers knew exactly what to do.

Ken Thomas did the right thing.  "Nobody should have to live like that, and, by God, if I have anything to say about it, it will never happen again," Thomas, a 72-year-old retired military veteran who saw Dowd near her tent Tuesday told The Herald. He immediately opened up his home for her to sleep Tuesday night.  "A granny and a child out in a tent. That's not the America I know," Thomas said.

Shannon Whitesides did the right thing.  She’s a York County Council on Aging social worker who helps older residents in York's White Oak senior apartments.  Thomas enlisted her help.  Whitesides helped Dowd move in to the new apartment after the utility problems were resolved.

Shelly Risk, did the right thing.  She’s the manager of the apartment complex.  The Herald reports that

Risk started calling around to try to find more help, collecting beds and clothes and groceries. More donations came in, from money to food to a Superman book bag for when Dowd's grandson goes to school.  "Her grandson went to school with my own little boy last year in York," Risk said. "We had to help these people. She is not a bad person. She cares about that child."

And once the story made the paper, all sorts of other people came forward to do the right thing, too.

With all those strangers working to make things better, who in the world would actually step in and make things worse?  Like anyone even has to ask.  Yes, things went downhill as soon as the police called in the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

Rather than simply provide the cash to get those utilities turned on, they confiscated the child and threw him into foster care – which, in addition to being far more cruel also is more expensive for taxpayers.

Even though Dowd has no criminal record, even though Whitesides went to court with Dowd that afternoon and promised to help her move in, and even after the problem with getting the utilities turned on had been resolved, DSS and a judge would not let the child return to his grandmother.

First Dowd will have to provide proof of residency.  Then DSS will send out a caseworker to make sure the new apartment passes her white glove test.  Then, according to The Herald, comes “a review of finances and any other means of support to endure the child’s continued safety,” according to a DSS spokeswoman.

After all that, this seven-year-old boy, torn from the grandmother who raised him from infancy might – might – be reunited with that grandmother.

If this all sounds disturbingly familiar, perhaps that’s because it’s so much like the case that made headlines in Texas just last month.  Or maybe it’s because of the similarities to another case from South Carolina.

But I’m sure authorities in South Carolina will find some way to explain how this was not a case of tearing apart a family because of poverty.  And I’m sure they’ll find some wretched excuse for why their bureaucracy couldn’t show the same wisdom, compassion and common sense of three total strangers.