Foster children reuniting faster with family at innovative Wake House

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Right after school, children walk through the front door, put down their book bags and join their parents in the kitchen where they have been hard at work preparing dinner for the family.

It's a scene playing out every day in a place that isn't home for those families, but rather, a visitation center where parents can have court-ordered supervised visits with their children who are in the foster system.

Wake House, located in Raleigh, served as a boys group home before the county decided to flip it in late 2018, turning it into the visitation center it is today.

Before Wake House, all families had to conduct their visitations in a Wake Human Services office building.



"The visits were in a 10 x 10 room, cramped, sterile," said Paige Rosemond, Child Welfare Director. "Parents had to walk past what could be their peers or other community members to be able to access the visitation. They couldn't take their children to the bathroom without someone with badge access to be able to walk them."

Rosemond said because of Wake House, the county has seen its greatest improvement in one year's time for family reunification.

"It's essential," Rosemond said of the quality time the parents now get to enjoy with their children in a homelike setting. "It's one of the greatest indicators of whether or not a child reunifies with their parent."

In the last year, Rosemond said Wake County had a 65 percent increase in its reunification rate, reducing the amount of time children spent in foster care by 132 days.

Multiple private rooms with sofas, bean bags, and bookcases stocked with books and games line a hallway that leads to a large living room. An open kitchen with a large dining room table has become a common gathering place for families to cook and share a meal together.

"It's natural," said Lucky Hudson, a visitation coach. "It's a natural home setting. It gives them a chance to fully engage and see how they would actually do in a home setting."

Outside, families can enjoy a big yard with a basketball court and grill just as they would do in their own home.

"We really honor parents," Rosemond said. "It's no longer about the agency checking a box, but we're really here to engage our parents and set them up to be successful."

Rosemond said Wake House is also having a positive effect on the single fathers working to reunite with their children. Between January and June of 2019, Rosemond said 33 children were reunited with their families, 16 of them to single fathers.

"You have to have the willingness to change and to do things differently," she said of the move to Wake House. "Often we can get stuck in a rut and this is how we've always done it historically. By taking a risk and by looking at different innovative practices we have a really strong team at Wake County and Child Welfare, we decided we were going to take this risk."
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