McCORMICK, SC. (WJBF) – There are nearly 400,000 children in foster care across the country, and communities in the CSRA are seeing it too.
The state of South Carolina currently has 3,665 children in foster care, one of many states in a youth housing crisis–it’s something that McCormick County Department of Social Services Director Daniel Lott sees everywhere.
“Yes, poverty exists in McCormick, it exists in every county. I live in Aiken County, and it’s in Aiken County too,” said Lott.
According to the Department of Social Services, out of the 9,764 people in McCormick County, 32.6% of children are living in areas of concentrated poverty.
But thanks to a new partnership with the non-profit group Lily Pad, they’re making a difference.
“We’re coming alongside the Department of Social Services because our spaces are in their offices, so we have a 5 year plan from when we started of having a Lily Pad space in every DSS office in the state of South Carolina,” said Lily Pad Co-Founder Jennifer Tice.
Lily Pad serves young people who are in the Foster Care system, giving them a “living room” -type space within the county D-S-S office.
“So we are installing living room type spaces for these children to always have a space prepared for them anytime they’re in the office. Whether that’s waiting for placement, visiting with family, or meeting with their attorney, the rooms are available for them,” said Tice.
Jennifer and her husband, Benjamin, have been married for 16 years, and first became parents in 2010, where they began fostering vulnerable children in the Palmetto state.
They have three children–Rhys, Zack, and Eric–but they have parented 35 children through foster care.
Last year, the Tice family said goodbye to a foster daughter, Lily, after raising her for 27 months.
As she reunited with her biological family, two more girls came into their home: a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.
This experience opened Jennifer and Ben’s eyes to what older children experience when they are placed in foster care–so that inspired them to start the Lily Pad organization.
“It’s huge to address these children’s needs, and show them they’re valuable at a young age to help keep them from falling into a situation where they would be victims. Poverty I think plays in all those different areas,” said Tice.
Lott also emphasizes the importance of bringing this issue to light.
“Imagine if you were in high school or middle school and you’re on the football team,” said Lott. “You have an important game coming up on Friday night with your friends, and all of a sudden–due to no fault of your own–law enforcement appear at your home and tell you you have to go with DSS staff. It is traumatic, and we want to take every step to prevent that. But for entries into foster care, we want to take every measurable approach to make that as less traumatic as possible.”
The McCormick County location is Lily Pad’s 12th in South Carolina.
“This is a great place. What they did was they came into our office and took and completely redid it, and now it honestly looks like a living room you find in a house,” said Lott.
Tice says as they continue to address this ever-growing issue, they need more help from the communities they serve.
“We all can be doing something. We all can be doing something to serve the children of our state, even if that doesn’t mean bringing them into our home,” said Tice.
Tice adds, “I would encourage individuals in the CSRA to reach out to your local Department of Social Services. Ask them what needs they have. They might have a specific need for a specific child, or they may have some general needs.”
Tice says that contributions could be bringing a new pair of shoes or pajamas to your child, or even a backpack full of toiletries.
The Lily Pad organization also has a monthly donor program, where you can donate just $10 for this cause.
To find more information about Lily Pad, you can visit their website here.