Speak Up, Shape Policy: Your Voice as a Blueprint for Child Legislation in South Carolina

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Today we’re joined by Shealy Reibold, Senior Resource Attorney to South Carolina’s Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children (JCLCC). Learn how this powerful group of policymakers, agency heads, and community leaders tackle crucial issues, from healthcare to education, affecting children and families in the state.

Want to influence policy yourself? The conversation zeroes in on the annual public hearings, where your voice can make a difference. Whether you’re a parent, a healthcare provider, an educator, or someone who cares about the next generation, discover how your testimony can guide legislation. Plus, get the scoop on two essential tools that feed data-driven decisions: the Annual Report and the Data Book. Don’t miss the chance to become an active participant in shaping South Carolina’s future.


JCLCC Annual Report and Databook

Public Hearing Dates

Submit testimony via email: comments@mailbox.sc.edu


Katy Smith: If you’re a regular listener to this Simple Civics: Greenville County Podcast, you know we’ve shared lots of ways for you to let policymakers know what you care about. Writing letters, making calls, sending emails, or meeting in their offices. But today we’re delighted to share with you a way to lift up the needs of children in our state by making a visit to the Greenville County Public Hearing of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children.

This committee gives a way for citizens and policymakers to hear from people in the state about what’s going on in the lives of South Carolina’s children and families, and possible ways for policy to make a difference. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and today you’ll hear from Shealy Reibold, who is the senior resource attorney for the committee.

She’s interviewed by Derek Lewis. Derek is a member of the committee and he is also Executive Director of Greenville First Steps and Chair of our Greater Good Greenville Advocacy Roundtable, and a member of our board of directors.

Derek Lewis: Thanks Shealy for joining us today. We’re gonna talk a little bit about the Joint Citizens Legislative Committee on Children which some people call the Children’s Committee. So first, can we just talk a little about what is the J C L C C and kind of what is its purpose?

Shealy Reibold: Thanks for your question. And thanks for having me this afternoon. I’m glad to be here. The children’s Committee, as you mentioned, is sort of the short name for the committee. It’s a committee that was established by state law and it identifies as studies issues related to children in South Carolina, and then it develops policy and recommendations for the Governor and General Assembly to try to address some of those issues.

Derek Lewis: One of the things that’s incredible to me is the makeup of the committee is agency heads. So we have the heads of what? DHEC, DSS…

Shealy Reibold: It’s 11 child serving agencies in the state.

Derek Lewis: Including the State Department of Ed, First Steps, Department of Mental Health.

Shealy Reibold: DHEC, um, Medicaid, Department of Children’s Advocacy, Department of Juvenile Justice. I don’t know if that was 11, but it was close.

Derek Lewis: And then we also have then three house members, three senate members, and then three gubernatorial appointees.

Shealy Reibold: Right, and the committee, it’s bipartisan. So we have Democrats and Republicans. We’ve also got, as you mentioned, senate members and house members. So every little bit helps.

Derek Lewis: Let’s talk about public hearings for a second. ‘Cause I, you know, as, as someone who has served on the committee, it is my absolute favorite thing that government does are these opportunities for the public to just come and talk about whatever issues they want to, um, that they want this group to know about, that affect children and families.

Talk a little bit about the hearings and kind of how they’re structured and how people can participate if they’re interested.

Shealy Reibold: Sure. So the committee goes around the state each fall and holds these open public hearings, and they are solely to take testimony from the public about children’s issues in the state. So typically we go to Florence, we go to Greenville, we go to Columbia, and we go to Charleston. Uh, and usually there’s a, a couple hours, two or three hours in each location.

It’s pretty basic in terms of the setup. Um, the committee comes and then there’s a little lectern there, and you sign up and you can come in and you have three minutes to testify about whatever children’s issue that you would like. And it runs the gamut. I mean, it’s a wide range of topics.

We’ve heard about mental health. We’ve heard about health. We’ve heard about juvenile justice and juvenile life without parole. Um, you know, education, we hear from pediatricians about gun violence and obesity, food insecurity, you know, and it’s a variety of different issues that affect the children in this state. And so folks can come and testify.

Like I said, each speaker has three minutes. And it’s very, I don’t wanna say low key, because if it’s still, it’s still a formal proceeding, but it’s more relaxed in that no one is cross-examining you. You know, you get up, you, you can speak as long or as little as you like within that three minute timeframe, and then you may or may not get questions from the committee.

And those questions a lot of times are just following up. You know, if somebody has relayed a personal experience on one of those issues, then they may ask follow-up questions. Um, if it’s somebody maybe who’s on Medicaid that’s come to testify, well the representative from the Department of Health and Human Services that administer Medicaid may ask a follow up question or may say, “can I talk to you after this and, and exchange information so we can follow up later.”

So it’s a really good opportunity to be able to contact a wide range of officials, um, who deal with children’s issues every day, in one hearing. If you are interested in participating, if you would like to testify, the information will be in the comments, but the email address to sign up is comments@mailbox.sc.edu. And you just send us an email. We will get you signed up for whichever hearing you’d like to attend, and give you some additional instructions and, and directions to the facility, all the things that you need to be able to attend and participate successfully.

Derek Lewis: You mentioned that some of the testimony comes from parents or family members or people who are directly affected by this rather than, say, a nonprofit director, an agency head. But we’re hearing from both of those groups of people at these hearings. And it could be anything from, you know, this is a specific issue that was affecting my Medicaid reimbursement to, this is a DSS custody issue that I need, need help with.

Shealy Reibold: Sure. We hear from parents, grandparents, providers. We get testimony from several pediatricians across the state in particular, uh, we hear from providers and hospital systems even will send representatives. A broad range of people and organizations who come to testify.

So it, which makes it interesting because you can hear, you know, sometimes testimony about a systemic level issue, and then right after that is something very specific. “My child or my grandchild is involved with the juvenile justice system, or is in foster care or, a kinship caregiver.” Um, so it, there’s definitely a range.

Derek Lewis: So we’ll put in the show notes the dates of the public hearings, which are scheduled for September and October. One specific one that happens in the Upstate is Tuesday, September the 12th at 5:00 PM at Greenville City Hall which is a new location for the hearings. Um, so the city, Greenville City Hall at 5:00 PM on the 12th. Shealy, talk about some of the successes. You know, one of them that comes to mind for me was we had a teacher come to the last one, two teachers, and they, they spoke about paid parental leave and how important it was for them as teachers to, uh, receive paid leave and not have to use their sick leave when they had to leave to have a child.

And, you know, that issue kind of carried forward from testimony to a, a house member. Uh, representative Collins kind of took that issue and kind of helped work it out to it actually being signed into law this year. So are there successes that you can think of where citizens have given testimony and it’s, it’s resulted in some sort of positive policy change.

Shealy Reibold: Sure, and I should mention first, uh, last year the general assembly passed paid family leave for most state employees, and that was also a committee endorsed bill and it was Senator Jackson’s and Senator Sheeley were on that bill on the Senate side and Representative Bernstein, um, and the House were supporters of that.

And then of course, as you mentioned the latest iteration of that was that teachers were also included in that with Representative Collins Bill that was signed into law this year. But there have been several other examples. The committee had seven of its bills passed this year into law.

And of those, four I can tie back to testimony we received at these public hearings. So there is a definite and strong connection between being alerted to these issues and then having a bill filed for the next legislative session that would address those, if that’s the appropriate way to address it.

Not everything we hear about is something that will require a policy change. Maybe sometimes it’s just a procedure of an agency or it may be a federal law that we, we can’t really change or, or effect. But we definitely hear about these issues and then we research them and vet them out and, and see what needs to be done.

And if, if legislation is the appropriate path to move forward, then that’s what we do. One of the best examples is with child and youth mental health. That’s been a big focus of the committee over the last two years. There has been a dramatic increase in behavioral and mental health needs among children and youth, and it was already increasing before the pandemic, and then the pandemic just exacerbated the need.

Um, and so that’s something that the committee has looked at. And as part of that, we did two separate school district surveys. The first survey really just tried to get the lay of the land. Okay, schools, what are you seeing? What do you, what services do you have in place? What is the need for additional school mental health?

And I, I like to think that that informed the debate somewhat. And it, raised questions and, and showed some disparities. And as a result of that, there was some reimbursement reform on the Medicaid side to bring up the pay for school mental health professionals to bring it up to the same rate as the Department of Mental Health Professionals some school districts were using.

The governor also obviously had his executive order and all those things just together you know, gave us a good picture of, okay, where are we now? What improvements need to be made and how can we make those? Reimbursement was one of those pieces. The other thing that became more evident was the lack of community services that were available for families and children who needed them.

And so the legislature passed the committee bill to open up what are called crisis stabilization units to children and youth. Crisis stabilization unit is you take somebody there to get them stabilized, maybe they’re having a mental health crisis. You take them there instead of the emergency room.

There’s practitioners there. They can evaluate them, they can test them, they can get them stabilized. They can work with a family to find resources in the community for that person. And usually it’s like a 24, 48 hour stay and then you go back into your community, back home.

Those in South Carolina we’re limited to adults, 18 and older. And so when the committee saw, okay, there’s this great need and we’ve closed off one of the crisis stabilization options for parents for kids under 18. And so they passed a bill this session that would open that. It expands the age down to five for crisis stabilization units.

And then in conjunction with that, Medicaid offered… $ 35 or $40 million to hospitals to develop crisis stabilization units as part of their hospital setup. Instead of utilizing the emergency room, they can route those folks to a CSU right there in the hospital.

Derek Lewis: I mean, I think those are great examples of how a citizen gave testimony at these public hearings. The committee kind of hears trends and kind of hears opportunities for, for ways that policy might could improve the lives of our citizens based on the testimony that was given. One of the other things that comes out of that committee work though, is the data book.

And I, I, I want you to just to talk a little bit about, we’ll have a link to the data book in our show notes, but both the data book and the annual report are documents that the committee creates that are really resources that provide base information for the general assembly to use to make policy decisions.

So could you talk a little bit about the data book and the annual report and, and kind of what, what’s in there?

Shealy Reibold: Sure. So the annual report is released, uh, the beginning of February each year. Typically we’ll dive, do a deeper dive into usually 10 to 12 issues. And those typically correspond with bills that we have filed for the year. So for example, the crisis stabilization unit bill, we have an article in the annual report doing a deeper dive about crisis stabilization units, what they are, how many we have in South Carolina.

Why we need to increase, um, access to those. And it’s still, it’s not a, an academic paper. It’s, it’s maybe a page or two summary of the issue and why the certain bill is needed. But we pass those out to the general assembly to support the legislation that we filed, but also just to inform the public, Hey, these are issues that are important, have been identified, and here’s why the committee has taken the action that it’s taken. The data book comes out later in the spring and it is about a hundred pages of state specific data on a number of children’s measures. So you’re talking juvenile justice data, department of social services data, nutrition data, its, you know, any kind of incident reports, injury reports. Medicaid data, all kinds of things.

And some of those facts and figures are, are pretty eye-opening. We distribute those to the general assembly as well so that they’re informed and know about the status of, of children in South Carolina, whether it be their health or their safety or another measure. And the data book contains, as I mentioned, state data.

It’s got four years of state data. And then we added federal or county level data when that’s available as well. So that’s particularly helpful when you have a legislator and, and they’re representing their district. They can break it down by county and see, oh, what’s happening in Greenville County? What are our numbers there?

Derek Lewis: To me the, the annual report and the data book are particularly useful because they seem to take a testimony that a family is provided and provides some data or context to that issue. So, you know, we, we get testimony about preschool suspension for children with disabilities and the data book and the annual report kind of break that down to say, you know, 15% of South Carolina children who have been suspended or expelled are students with disabilities.

And you can compare that to the disability rate in the state. And that, that objective summary of data. Um, makes it easier for a policymaker to look at that and say, okay, so what can change here? And then you can go to the annual report and see, oh, well in this state, you know, here’s how they’re addressing that, that issue.

So it, it seems to be a kinda one stop shop for policymakers to find both data that identifies a problem, but also opportunities for solutions that could exist in other states.

Shealy Reibold: And I think too, it, it just helps refine the issue a little bit. Um, you may have something that’s a problem in Greenville, but it’s not a problem anywhere else. Or maybe there’s an issue they’re having and we can look at the data and say, oh, well this is primarily affecting the low country. Why is that?

You know, why is it here and nowhere else? Or is it everywhere? And I, I think it’s kind of easy for anyone to say, “oh, well I don’t think that’s a problem where I live,” If they’re not experiencing that problem. And sometimes data can open eyes a little bit and say, “okay, well you may not be having this issue, but several people in your county are.”

Derek Lewis: You know, to me what’s exciting about the data book and the annual report is that they are kind of policy pieces that really generate from that public testimony. And so kind of going back to the idea of one family standing in front of a microphone and saying, you know, I have a problem with, you know, my, my family is being affected with preschool suspension rates, and my child has a disability, leads to a collection of data and potential for policy change.

That maybe that family hasn’t even, you know, investigated across the country, but their testimony has really led to this opportunity for, really robust policy work and data work to be done.

Shealy Reibold: Right, and you always want your policy to be informed by what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening on the ground. What, what are people actually experiencing? That’s what you want to inform policy, not what people think is happening. And so I think that’s one of the, one of the benefits is having the public hearings is the people who are actually encountering these issues or seeing gaps in services or whatever the issue may be.

A lot of times they’re the ones that are the one testifying and say, “my personal experience is X” as opposed to someone say, “well, we don’t really think we have any issues with that here.” it’s more personal and it’s just usually makes better policy when you’ve got someone who actually had that experience.

Or maybe they’re the recipient of certain services and they give that kind of feedback. That’s invaluable.

Derek Lewis: Those, those personal experiences that really are, are the driving force to a lot of this work.

Shealy Reibold: Yes, absolutely.

Derek Lewis: So just as a reminder, uh, we have a series of public hearings. There’s, uh, hearings in Columbia, Florence, North Charleston, but specifically here in Greenville on Tuesday, September the 12th at 5:00 PM in Greenville City Hall.

Individuals can come up, they can give testimony, they can share issues that are affecting them and their families and have that information really be reviewed by this committee in an opportunity to address some of these policy needs.

Shealy Reibold: And I wanted to add too, if you cannot make the Greenville hearing, you’re welcome to attend any of the other hearings around the state. You’re not just limited to the one that’s closest to you. And also if maybe you’re a little too shy to testify, or you wanna provide more than the three minutes, you’re more than welcome to email us and provide written testimony.

We’re accepting that until October 20th. So you can send in what you’d like to testify to, just written out if you wanna include documentation or brochures or whatever it may be to give more information about whatever the subject you’re speaking about, then we’re glad to accept that as well.

Derek Lewis: Well, Shealy, we’re so glad that you are on with us today. We’re gonna put a link in the show notes to the dates of our public hearings, as well as a link to the annual report and the data book. Um, and then we’ll also put a link to the email address where you can submit testimony, um, electronically. So thanks for joining us today and for all the work that the Children’s Committee does for children and families in South Carolina.

Shealy Reibold: Thank you for having me, and we look forward to seeing you all in Greenville.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

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