The Bench-Bar Committee was established in 1994 pursuant to the South Carolina Families for Kids, a partnership of the South Carolina Department of Social Services and United Way of South Carolina. The Bench-Bar Committee was created to focus on the legal process of the child protection system. Although originally conceptualized as a committee of lawyers and judges, the Bench-Bar Committee membership was expanded to include representatives of the Office of Court Administration, the Department of Social Services, and other child-serving agencies.
A major accomplishment supported by the Bench-Bar Committee was the enactment of the Child Protection Reform Act of 1996. This Act established requirements for family court permanency planning hearings for children placed in foster care. It established deadlines for implementation of a child's permanency plan and compressed the time frames for required hearings. The Act expanded the grounds for termination of parental rights, separated the Central Child Abuse Registry from the DSS internal data system, and made numerous other changes which improved the administration of justice for children and their families.
The Bench-Bar Committee also identified the need for additional training and assistance for attorneys and other professionals involved in family court proceedings related to child abuse and neglect. The Bench-Bar Committee's efforts led to establishment of the Children's Law Center (formerly the Children's Law Office) at the USC School of Law. The Children's Law Center began in 1995 as a statewide training and resource center for professionals involved in child protection cases in the family courts and in the criminal prosecutions of adults for child abuse. The Children's Law Center now provides extensive training and technical assistance for attorneys, judges, guardians ad litem, DSS case workers, law enforcement, and other professionals involved in child welfare proceedings.
Subsequent to the South Carolina Families for Kids grant, the Bench-Bar Committee continues to monitor the legal process of child protection cases and to make recommendations for its improvement.