AP NEWS

South Carolina gov names head of state child welfare agency

March 27, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Henry McMaster capped a nationwide search by appointing a veteran of Tennessee’s child welfare agency on Wednesday to head South Carolina’s counterpart.

McMaster announced the appointment of Michael Leach to head South Carolina’s Department of Social Services. The top position became vacant last year when the previous director retired, and McMaster said Leach was tapped as the outcome of an “exhaustive and inclusive” search.

“It’s a big job,” McMaster said. “It is clearly transformative leadership that is required in South Carolina to resolve the going and frustrating issues the Department of Social Services faces and has faced.”

The agency has struggled in recent years with large caseloads for agents investigating abuse cases. It also is grappling with an unwieldy child support system that had tens of millions of dollars of cost overruns.

The South Carolina agency was sued over its treatment of children and is under court oversight, leaving challenges ahead for Leach.

A mental health clinician, Leach has more than 10 years of experience with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services including service as its deputy commissioner for child programs. The married father of one child said it will take a team effort on the part of the department, courts, lawmakers and other partners to successfully meet the needs of South Carolina.

“I’m excited and eager to get started. I’m looking for innovative approaches, urgency,” Leach said. “I’m going to bring a lot of energy into this work, and I want bold leaders and bold ideas to make sure that we’re moving forward.”

McMaster called the appointment a key step for the department, which he noted serves several critical functions for the state.

The governor’s office said acting director Joan Meacham will continue leading the agency until Leach’s appointment is confirmed by the Senate.