Sponsors of a bill filed to overhaul the state’s child welfare system say they hope to address a “child welfare crisis” and tackle a number of problems in the state’s foster care system.
Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Wake County Republican, introduced the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act during a news conference flanked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly and young men and women who had recently aged out of the child welfare system.
“Our state has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of children coming into foster care over the last five years,” Barringer said. “And both federal and state reviews and audits have identified systemic failures and weaknesses in our system.”
Those reviews include one from the Public Consulting Group in 2016 that found systematic problems in the child welfare system and a 2017 report from the N.C. State Auditor that found most of the counties in the audit did not consistently meet standards for timeliness or accuracy in processing Medicaid claims.
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“How many times do we have to be told we’re failing before we do something?” she said.
Senate Bill 594 establishes a Child Welfare Transformation Council and restructures the state’s social services system to prioritize standardization and efficiency and turn a county-based system into a regional system. Lawmakers said structuring it that way would help communication problems between counties that have plagued the system recently.
Barringer, who has been a foster parent, said the state’s social workers are “completely overwhelmed, under-served and as a result, they cannot deliver the basic of services in some cases to our children.”
The bill brings together county, state and court officials and others to design the restructuring plan – which should be ready for a recommendation to lawmakers by March 31, 2019.
Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill, lost both his parents during a three-month span when he was 15 years old. After that, he was “bounced around without a system,” staying with family members. That experience created instability for him as a teen, Tucker said. He said Wednesday it was time to help give stability and accountability to children in the system. Barringer said the bill is being fast-tracked in the General Assembly.
“Children deserve a family, not a system,” Barringer said. “And the system we have is failing our children.”