HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Department of Social Services is celebrating foster care awareness month by bringing awareness to its Relative and Kin Connections program.

Spokesperson for the department, Connelly-Anne Ragley, said putting children and youth with relatives is the department’s top priority when a child is placed in the foster care system.

Twenty-one percent of the children and teenagers in South Carolina’s foster care system are with relatives or people they know in the community. Ragley said this is the highest rate of foster children living with people they know.

This can include teachers, coaches and other trusted adults.

“When a child must be removed and cannot safely remain in their home, we want to minimize their trauma as much as possible, we want them in a stable placement that does not require, moves or transfers to other homes. Kinship care is an option for that to try to minimize that trauma for youth,” Ragley said.

There are 4,000 kids in the foster care system in South Carolina — 214 in Horry County and 197 in Florence County. A lot of these cases are because of neglect.

“It is kids coming to school dirty, where they have not bathed or coming to school in dirty clothes, or they do not have money for lunch, or the old coat scenario where it is 30 degrees and the kid’s wearing shorts and a T- shirt, they do not have a coat, or on the reverse of that it’s 90 degrees outside and the kids bundled up in a coat. It is something is not right,” Ragley said.

Radley said finding foster families for children ages 10-17 has been difficult, as well as sibling groups, because there are a lot of foster families that only want to care for infants or toddlers. It can also be financially difficult for foster families to take in groups. 

The department’s kinship program strives to help make the transition for teens easier and possible for siblings to stay together. 

“Kinship placements are really trying to help fill in that gap, especially for that teenage group that ages 10 to 17. They deserve the same love and the same willingness to work with them and serve that child and their time of need,” Ragley said.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services has proposed legislation that will allow children to be placed with fictive kin — is someone who shares a significant emotional connection with a child or family of a child in need of foster care.

If the bill, passed fictive kin would be qualified for the financial resources and support the department offers to be licensed kinship care providers.

Ragley said the state needs foster care families and encourages anyone who is considering being a foster care parent or providing resources for foster care families to reach out to the agency to get more information on its website.