Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH), a foster home pioneer in the 1970s, will again offer the service, in part because residential services have lost favor among county social workers who place at-risk children outside their home.
A $180,000 grant from the Duke Endowment is helping BCH re-establish its foster homes, which will start first in the west as soon as foster families are identified and trained. BCH President Michael C. Blackwell said foster homes will diversify the BCH service mix and enable BCH to serve more children.
About 300 children on any given day currently live in BCH residential facilities across the state. Typically 8 to 10 children live in cottages with full-time house parents.
BCH was an early advocate of foster care, training and supervising a network of foster parents in the 1970s, but the work faded as the state began relying more on its own foster care system for children in its custody.
Of the nearly 10,000 children in the custody of county departments of social services in North Carolina, one-third are in foster homes. DSS officials say that when they have to take custody of a child, the first option is for the child to stay with relatives. If that can’t be worked out, social workers try to place the child in a foster home.
Residential care, like that offered by BCH and about 40 other organizations in North Carolina, is only used when other options aren’t available.
The foster care system regularly comes under fire when a child in care is injured, dies or commits a crime.
Kevin Kelley, assistant section chief for family support and child welfare services for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Social Services, said that while the foster care system is not perfect, he believes it is generally healthy.
“We could always improve, but we think we have a good system,” he said.
For a home to be licensed for foster care, all adults living there must pass a background check. DSS officials also must determine if the area is a safe living environment, he said.
Kelley said the larger the pool of available foster parents the better officials can match the needs of children with the ability of foster parents to meet those needs. “We always need more” foster parents, he said.
Keith Henry, BCH executive vice president for programs and services, feels some families will want to serve as foster families through BCH that had no interest in doing so through the state.
Foster parents receive financial compensation to offset the child’s room, board, and other living expenses. The amount varies but the state recommendations are $475 monthly for newborns to five-year-olds; $581 for children 6 to 12; and $634 for those more than 13 years old, according to the DSS web site.
Foster parents must be at least 21 years old; have a stable home and income; maintain a drug free environment; and complete a training regimen, according to the DSS web site.
Kelley said the training, which is called Model Approaches to Partnerships in Parenting — Group Preparation and Selection (MAPP-GPS), teaches foster parents how foster care is similar to raising their child in some ways but different in others. The training also prepares them for the likelihood that the children won’t be in their care forever.
If the court determines that the parent is ready to care for the child, he or she returns home.
“As soon as the judge says they’re ready to go back, that’s when they go back,” Kelley said.
A child can also leave foster care if a relative who earlier didn’t think they could care for the child decides to take him or her. Kelley said the state’s goal is to have a permanent plan established for the child within 12 months of coming into DSS custody. If the court terminates parental rights or the parents give them up, the child becomes available for adoption. Sometimes foster parents adopt the child they’ve had in care. If not DSS seeks other options.
Kelley said the goal is for the child to have a family atmosphere even after he or she turns 18.
“The goal is still to have those adult connections,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of a package of stories about the state of children in North Carolina.)
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