The number of North Carolina children in foster care has increased more than 25 percent in the past five years, leading officials to call it a “state of crisis.”
“Foster care has been growing at an alarming rate with a shortage of permanent, safe and loving homes for adoptable children,” said Brian Maness, president and CEO of the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, the state’s largest private provider of foster care and adoption services.
There are about 10,500 children in foster care in North Carolina, up from just more than 8,000 in 2012. Last year, the number of children in foster care every month was higher than in the corresponding months in 2015.
Poverty, unemployment and the state’s opioid crisis are the primary factors contributing to this increase, said Rebecca Starnes, the agency’s vice president of family education. They place additional stress on families or cause children to be removed from their homes.
“There’s never just one factor,” Starnes said.
The abuse of opioids – which includes heroin, painkillers such as morphine and methadone, and prescription drugs such as oxycodone – has become one of North Carolina’s main concerns. Every year, more than 1,000 people in the state die from prescription drug overdoses, according to the state’s Division of Public Health.
Childhood poverty is another pressing issue. In North Carolina, more than 24 percent of children under 18 live below the poverty level, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau conducted from 2011 to 2015.
The biggest challenges the Children’s Home Society faces are raising public awareness and sufficient resources to find families that can meet each foster child’s needs.
“Foster care needs so much attention, and the time is now. We need to get these children into permanent homes
Republican state Sen. Tamara Barringer, advocate for foster children
In 2014, the society launched a campaign to help address the growing need for foster care and adoption in North Carolina. Two years later, the provider’s board of directors approved a five-year plan and campaign to raise the number of adoptions. In late January, the board will meet to review the plan and funding.
“These children have not done anything wrong,” said Brook Wingate, vice president of philanthropy at the Children’s Home Society. “They have a lot to give to the world, and we can help make life more beautiful for them.”
Although Republican state Sen. Tamara Barringer said she has seen some improvement, she added that the state needs to continue to make foster care a priority. Barringer, of Cary, has been an advocate for foster children in her role as senator and was a foster parent for 11 years.
“Foster care needs so much attention, and the time is now. We need to get these children into permanent homes,” Barringer said. “That’s why I’m in the General Assembly: to help them.”
The Foster Care 18 to 21 initiative, passed by the General Assembly in 2015, went into effect Jan. 1. Previously, foster children aged out of the system at 18. The new law raises that age to 21, which Barringer said will give children the opportunity to enroll in college, get a job and find permanent housing while still receiving services.
To further improve foster care, Barringer is pushing efforts to reduce the amount of time it takes to become a foster caregiver and to make it easier for foster children to learn to drive.
“When I talk to these children, it’s a poignant concern,” she said. “If they can’t drive, that limits their opportunities.”
Some adults view fostering or adopting children as potentially dangerous or especially difficult because of children’s often-traumatic backgrounds and experiences. But remaining in the system can make things worse, Barringer said.
“The longer (children) are in foster care, the greater their trauma and special needs become,” she said. “They need permanency. Who wouldn’t be affected by that? Those needs can be overcome by the right parents.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler
How to help
▪ Apply to foster or adopt a child through Children’s Home Society by calling 1-800-632-1400 or filling out an online form at bit.ly/2j2sJpe.
▪ Attend an information session to learn more about fostering and adopting. To view a session schedule, visit bit.ly/2iCeXXe.
▪ Donate to Children’s Home Society by phone at 1-800-632-1400 or online at bit.ly/2jfHdPX. Checks can be mailed to Children’s Home Society of NC, PO Box 14608 Greensboro, NC 27415.