Each May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity to focus attention on the year-round needs of children in foster care, and most importantly, how we can ensure that these children ultimately have a permanent family and positive life outcomes.
Alarmingly, the number of children in foster care continues to rise in North Carolina and nationally. In North Carolina alone, almost 11,000 children are living in foster care. That number has risen 25 percent in the past five years. More children are in foster care in South Carolina as well. Too many families are struggling to the point that children are not getting the safe, stable, and loving care they need. The tragic outcomes of children experiencing and aging out of foster care are well documented.
The collective child welfare system is stressed. More foster and adoptive families are needed in response to the surge of children coming into care. More focus needs to be placed on supporting families and preventing children from entering care in the first place. And we need to channel resources toward evidence-based practices wherever possible and continue efforts to build evidence where proven interventions do not yet exist.
Despite these pressing challenges, encouraging progress is being made.
The recently-passed Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) holds tremendous potential in changing federal child welfare policy and funding. This federal legislation enhances family support services to keep families together, promotes evidence-based interventions, and seeks to ensure that children who do enter foster care are placed in the best possible settings to meet their needs.
The Permanency Innovation Initiative, a public-private partnership established in 2014, is expanding services to help older children in foster care awaiting adoption. Soon 75 percent of eligible children in North Carolina will have access to the evidence-based Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruitment program. Children served are proven to be three times more likely to be adopted.
North Carolina’s House Bill 630, passed last year and now being implemented, lays the groundwork for better regional collaboration and systems reform. This effort creates opportunities for leaders to work together toward a common vision for how best to serve vulnerable children and families in the future.
Children’s Home Society and other organizations are focused on increasing the capacity of available foster and adoptive families, improving supports for foster families and children in care, building and scaling evidence-based interventions, and informing policy and funding decisions toward the very best opportunities for positive change and outcomes.
As we think about children experiencing foster care this month, and as we recognize the progress we are making and the challenges still in front of us, let’s take time to reflect on the role of family in the life of a child. We can help children in many ways, but nothing can replace the role of a permanent, safe and loving family. If we can ensure this most fundamental need is met for children in care, we will have much to celebrate together.