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Lowcountry family struggles to get foster parent license from DSS

A sign in the Tanner home. (WCIV)

The bedroom sits empty, but if 5 year-old Skarlett Tanner has her way, it’s where her new brother will live.

“I want my brother to live here," she said.

Jason and Katie Tanner have applied for a license to foster the 15 year-old boy and welcome him into the family.

Katie volunteers at the foster home and learned of the teenager's need.

“This is how this all began- when I was shopping for football cleats,” says Katie Tanner. The Tanners say the boy has been living in an emergency shelter in a group foster home for the last three years.

Katie thought obtaining a license to become foster parents would be straightforward. According to DSS, the average time is less than four months.

“We ask what is our status, what is our timeline because we’ve been working on this for nine months calling, emailing, calling, emailing," she said. "You will wait sometimes days to get information."

Mounds of paperwork, numerous home visits, three licensing coordinator changes, and nine months later, she says, still no license .

“I cannot even count the tears; it's just the overwhelming frustration,” says Tanner.

Erin Hall is the CEO for the Palmetto Association for Children and Families (PAFCAF). She says, “When there is a family who is trying very hard to step up and be a forever family, we need to be grateful that they are opening their home to the child and we need to do everything we can to make that process smoother and quicker.”

According to a timeline posted on the DSS website, the Tanners still have eight more steps to complete before getting their license.

“This kid is running out of time and we don’t want kids aging out of foster with nobody to take them," Hall said. "The plight of kids who turn 18 and leave the system...the statistics are not very bright, “says Hall.

According to DSS, 255 children aged out of foster care last year after spending on average almost four years in the system.

“We are all in so whatever we need to do – this is about him not about us, it’s not about the DSS, it’s not about anybody but him," Hall said.

Jason Tanner says the family still believes the boy will be a part of their home.

“It’s like he’s mine right now, on his birthday, I send him a happy birthday. He sends me a message back saying, 'thanks for being a great father figure, I love you.' It means the world, like he’s there now, I look at him like my kid and its tearing me apart,” Jason says.

Now, it’s just a waiting game, but the clock is ticking.

DSS says they have made contact with the Tanners today and are working to get their license expedited.

DSS released this statement to us:

Over the last several years, the Department of Social Services has been working diligently to reduce the amount of time it takes a foster parent to become licensed in the state. Previously, it was taking foster parents, on average, 12-14 months to become licensed. We went through a redesign of the licensing process and, as of last month, the statewide the average amount of time it took to become licensed was 106 days. Despite the significant progress we have made, we know that there are some outliers whose licensing experience has taken longer than the average. In Charleston’s region some of these outliers are due to recent staff turnover and an increase in the number of applications due to our recruitment efforts. We have addressed staffing issues and are on track to ensuring that when our Department receives all the information needed to process an application, we do so in a timely manner for every applicant.

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