Thursday, April 3, 2014
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill intended to force all 46 coroners in South Carolina to report the suspicious deaths of children advanced Wednesday in the Senate.
Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said some children who die of abuse and neglect are being forgotten, with homicides potentially going unprosecuted, because coroners aren't complying with existing law. The elected officials are supposed to report unexplained or unexpected deaths of children within 24 hours to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Young's bill is intended to strengthen the law, though the language of how to do that is still being worked out. The concept heads to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators are trying to beat a May 1 deadline for bills moving from one chamber to the other.
"The bottom line is, we've got coroners not complying with existing law and deaths aren't reported to SLED, and we've got to fix that," Young said.
The bill also specifies the Department of Social Services can release information on its involvement with a child who is killed or seriously injured. However, it allows the agency's director to opt not to publicly release the records if an investigation is ongoing or officials believe it would harm the child or identify the person reporting suspected abuse.
It is the first proposal stemming from a series of hearings on potential problems at the Department of Social Services. Young, the panel's chairman, expects more legislation to follow next year.
The president of the state Coroners' Association, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger, said he's unaware of any particular coroner being deficient in his or her reporting duties. He said he personally treats all children's deaths as suspicious and reports them.
The data that goes to SLED is also reviewed by the State Child Fatality Advisory Committee, which is tasked with decreasing the number of preventable deaths of children under 18. The group, made up of representatives of various state agencies and organizations, is supposed to identify trends and suggest legislation or agency improvements.
Laura Hudson, a committee member and director of the South Carolina Crime Victims' Council, has cautioned legislators that reviewing the committee's numbers on DSS-involved child fatalities may not present the entire picture because of a lack of reporting.
"Some counties have never reported a child's death, and I refuse to believe they haven't had one," she said, adding that a case unreported to SLED may still have been investigated by local law enforcement.
(Copyright 2014. The Associated Press.)