NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Gov. Henry McMaster held a ceremonial bill signing in North Charleston on Thursday expanding access to kinship care in the state.

The legislation, S. 222, allows the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) the ability to place a child with a relative or fictive kin who is not yet licensed as a foster parent. It also enables them to receive financial assistance from DSS while in the licensing process.

“Today, we further strengthen our foster care system by cutting red tape and providing our children increased stability in the care of people they already know,” McMaster said. “It is legislation like this that makes a true impact on the lives of our children.”

According to the governor’s office, the bill defines fictive kin as an individual who is not related by birth, adoption, or marriage to a child but who has an emotionally significant relationship with the child or the child’s family.

McMaster included funding in his FY 2022-23 budget to support the expansion of kinship care to include fictive kin. Its expansion has been a top priority for DSS.

“Research confirms that children do best in kinship foster care and that family connections are critical to healthy child development, minimizing trauma, and strengthening a sense of belonging,” said DSS Director Michael Leach. “Kinship care also helps preserve children’s cultural identity and relationship to their community.”

Right now, 22% of children in DSS custody are in licensed kinship foster placements. An increase from 6% when Leach joined the agency in April 2019.

McMaster was joined by SC DSS director Michal leach and members of the General Assembly for the signing which took place at Charleston HALOS, an organization that serves grandparents, relatives, and family friends who are raising children to keep them out of foster care with strangers.

South Carolina now joins 28 other states that officer similar legislation.