Politics & Government

Foster kids get moved around. This could help some older kids find families.

NC Senator Tamara Barringer on the need for adoptive parents for foster children

Barringer talks about the importance of finding permanent homes for children in foster care.
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Barringer talks about the importance of finding permanent homes for children in foster care.

Hundreds of foster children get moved from home to home, and some never get adopted.

The disruptions can have ruinous consequences. Now an effort to find adoptive families for older foster children is expanding with the help of a private grant.

The Children’s Home Society won a $2.4 million grant from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption that will more than triple the number of workers it has looking for adoptive homes for children older than 9 years old who need parents.

The state helped get the program started with $3.75 million the legislature approved a few years ago for what it called the Permanency Innovation Initiative. The Children’s Home Society gets referrals from county social services departments and collaborates with their workers.

“I’m thrilled about this expansion,” said state Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican. “We have over 12,000 children in foster care. We have a foster care crisis in North Carolina.” Half the children will not find permanent families, said Barringer, a legislative leader on child welfare issues. “They will languish in foster care.”

The instability that comes with growing up in foster care has long-lasting impacts on the children themselves and society as a whole. Teenagers who age out of foster care are at high risk of becoming homeless. Kids who run away from foster homes and teenagers who age out are targets for human traffickers.

“These children, to have a chance in life, deserve a permanent family,” Barringer said.

The ripple effects of facing life without parents are evident in the lives of adults who were foster children.

Former foster youth enrolled in the Fostering Bright Futures program at Wake Tech gathered at Butterball’s headquarters in Garner for an early Thanksgiving lunch.

Michelle Blackmon, the Fostering Bright Futures coordinator, had the idea for the lunch a few years ago when she realized students in the program – all former foster children – didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday. The Wake Tech program helps students find housing and provides mentors, tutors and other life and academic support.

Tamesha Pittman, 27, was 15 when her mother lost custody of her and five of her siblings. One of her younger brothers went to live with his father, and a family adopted four of her younger siblings.

Pittman, who described herself as a “very “rebellious” teenager, lived in five foster homes before she left the child welfare system at 18. Pittman said she was told it was unlikely that she would be adopted because of her age.

“I did initially want to be adopted, even though I was older and knew I was going to age-out sooner,” she said. “I wanted that family.”

Pittman said she was fortunate that, at 18, she was able to move in with an aunt. But she’s moved around a lot since then. As a Wake Tech student, she has turned to Fostering Bright Futures for help finding housing and other support.

“Even as an adult now, I’ve had to go from place to place, staying with this friend or that friend because of financial issues,” she said

She thinks of Fostering Bright Futures as “parents for us while we’re in college.”

Last year, 572 kids aged out of foster care in the state – a high since at least the mid-2000s when the Jordan Institute for Families began collecting data.

Nearly 300 foster children aged 13 to 17 – or more than 32 percent in that age group – had had more than four placements by June 2016, according to the latest state data available.

The Children’s Home Society had 300 kids in the program aimed at older children as of September. Their average age is 13, and they had moved, on average, 5.4 times before being referred to the program, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

The child-specific recruitment service spins the search for families180 degrees. Rather than looking for the right child for a family, the search is for the right family for a child, said Rebecca Starnes, vice president for programs and quality improvement at the Children’s Home Society. Getting to know the children and their experiences, and using that knowledge to find the right family, is central to that approach, she said.

County departments of social services refer children to the agency, Starnes said, and the goal is to find homes for 75 percent of them.

“It’s really letting the child drive the process rather than letting the family requests drive the process,” she said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner