Bowers-Rodgers Children’s Home in Greenwood announced Thursday its final day of operation will be Jan. 31, after 30 years of caring for abused, abandoned and neglected children from across the state.
Jan. 31 will also be the final day of operation for the resale store benefiting the home.
Ti Barnes, the home’s executive director, told the Index-Journal the decision to close the emergency children’s shelter has been precipitated gradually, over the course of several years, by multiple factors and “challenges in the child welfare continuum.”
- The state of South Carolina becoming involved with a class-action lawsuit in early 2015, known as “Michelle H” filed on behalf of 11 children in foster care who alleged abuse while in care. The suit was later settled but mandates resulted, including removal of children 12 and younger from congregate care settings, except in certain situations.
- Passage of federal legislation — the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) — signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act on Feb. 9, 2018. FFPSA seeks to reduce entry in foster care, limit the use of congregate care and to increase access to substance abuse and mental health services for children and families.
- The novel coronavirus pandemic placing additional challenges on group home care.
“I’m saddened, but I don’t fault DSS at all, for desiring to limit the amount of children who come into foster care and group homes,” Barnes said. “This was a perfect storm, with COVID-19, preparing for changes with regard to legislation and a decreased census in terms of the number of children for which we care...The goal is to see these children reunited with their families. I applaud the Department of Social Services for making steps to try to ensure families are intact and children who are in the child welfare system have a family-like environment in which to reside.”
Steve Coleman, chairman of the Bowers-Rodgers Children’s Home board of trustees, said “It’s important people understand it is not any sort of negligence or mismanagement on the part of Bowers-Rodgers Children’s Home...Now, the model is more of a therapeutic model and that was never the intent of Bowers-Rodgers...The home would have to recreate itself to meet demands the state and governmental agencies are expecting...We have a number of things that have to be ironed out with executive level leadership and the store.”
Coleman said joint boards for the home and the foundation are scheduled to meet soon.
Kim Beaudoin, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Palmetto Association for Children and Families, describes the lawsuit and settlement agreement and passage of the FFPSA as a catalyst for transitioning children and youth out of group care environments and she said the impact of COVID-19 “has only further compounded the challenges.”
Barnes said the Bowers-Rodgers’ single dwelling in a residential neighborhood has a maximum capacity of 19 children.
Changes through the years in child well-being policies necessitated Bowers-Rodgers no longer caring for infants and young children.
“We had to get used to no longer having littles in the house,” Barnes said. “That transition happened in 2016...For organizations like us, under Family First, we were going to have to become a qualified residential treatment program. This is going to affect a lot of group homes.”
In a letter drafted by Barnes and a Bowers-Rodgers founder, Carole Mauldin, a former Guardian ad Litem and incoming chairwoman for the Bowers-Rodgers Foundation board, Barnes notes that even with policy changes and children entering foster care for longer periods, the home has provided regular well-child visits to doctors, on-site mental health therapy, family visitation and education enrichment with certified teachers.
“Changes have happened over a number of years,” Mauldin said. “We were designed to provide emergency foster care for little children...When we started the home 30 years ago, there was nowhere for emergency shelter...Now, most in emergency situations are placed with family or a foster home with foster parents.”
Mauldin said bequests to the Bowers-Rodgers Foundation will be placed into trust and ways to use those funds to improve lives of at-risk children will be sought. She noted First Baptist Church of Greenwood was a founding entity of the home.
Barnes said Bowers-Rodgers’ currently has two children, a boy and a girl.
“A lot of my staff are part-time and my other two administrative positions will certainly have to find something,” Barnes said. “I’m open to the next opportunity God leads me to...”
Barnes began working with Bowers-Rodgers in 2012 and has been executive director for five years.
“We are extremely grateful for community support and each and every volunteer and donor,” Barnes said.
In the drafted letter, Barnes said his “soul has truly been fed” through his years with the home.
“We served children who are now in the military, in college, members of the work force and finding themselves,” Barnes said in the letter.
Barnes said Bowers-Rodgers has been able to reunite children with families and provide them stability and a “place to heal and grow.”