Abuse allegations haunt lucrative group homes
By Lauren Sausse
BELTON — The bucolic countryside surrounding Boys Home of the South belies the horror some children say they endured after state Social Services officials dumped them here.
Even as state agencies gave the group home as much as $1.5 million a year, the Department of Social Services investigated the facility three dozen times for abuse and neglect allegations since 2000.
The state won’t reveal the outcome of these investigations, but children who lived at Boys Home of the South say they were tortured and raped by employees and their peers.
A high-profile child sex abuse lawsuit forced this group home to close last year — the campus has since reopened as a Christian campground. But that was too late for John Roe, who says he was repeatedly molested by a Boys Home of the South worker more than a decade ago.
Roe, now 23, asked that The Post and Courier conceal his real name by using the pseudonym he chose for a lawsuit filed last year against the group home and the Department of Social Services. He said he reported the attacks to another staffer and his assigned Department of Social Services caseworker, but they did nothing about the abuse.
“I felt worthless that nobody would actually listen, that it wasn’t taken seriously,” Roe said. “Eventually, I gave up trying.”
The lawsuit that finally shut down Boys Home of the South made national news, but this was far from the only residential group home in South Carolina to profit handsomely off taxpayer dollars while the child welfare agency investigated the facility for maltreatment of children in its care.
New Hope Carolinas, which operates a psychiatric treatment facility in Rock Hill, has been investigated for child abuse and neglect 119 times since 2000. Six other group homes and institutions have been investigated by Social Services at least 80 times in 15 years. All of them are still open, and the investigations remain sealed from the public.
Meanwhile, tax records show that nonprofit group homes in South Carolina alone make more than $70 million a year — largely from lucrative state contracts and private donations.
Some experts maintain that group homes provide a valuable community resource, offering services for many children, particularly those who have been diagnosed with severe behavioral health issues and have nowhere else to live. Others, however, contend that the state’s dependence on these homes has allowed the industry to rake in revenue while dodging accountability for the harm done to children on its watch.
Camden attorney Robert Butcher represents several former foster children allegedly abused in state custody, including Roe. Butcher said group home directors keep quiet about the kind of abuse Roe says he suffered because they worry the child welfare agency will stop sending them new children — their main source of revenue.
“They’re making a killing on these kids,” Butcher said. “They don’t want to rock that boat.”
Furthermore, he thinks some state caseworkers downplay allegations made by children because investigating potential abuse takes time that they don’t have and Social Services has nowhere else to place them.
“They’re in the business of selling children,” he said. “Basically, they don’t do their damn jobs.”
State officials and group home supporters say these facilities aren’t a perfect fit for every child, but it’s unfair to paint them all with the same brush.
“I think there are really good foster homes and there are really good group homes. And there’s really bad of both,” said Danny Gilbert, who owns Eagle Harbor Ranch, a group home for boys in Berkeley County. “There are some people who are just collecting a check.”