RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- In December 2015, a report by the US Department of Health & Human Services found North Carolina to not be in "substantial conformity" when it came to safety and quality of children in the social services system.
On Wednesday, Republican State Sen. Tamara Barringer stood before members of the press, and flanked by supporters and other lawmakers, introduced Senate Bill 594, the Child/Family Protection and Accountability Act.
READ THE FULL BILL HERE (.pdf)
The bill would essentially:
1) Restructure social services for standardization and efficiency
2) Reform the North Carolina Department of Social Services
3) Create a Child Welfare Transformation Council
4) Establish a Foster Care Driving Pilot
5) Include a pilot to help stabilize children in therapeutic foster care
6) Reduce the time to permanency for children in foster care
7) Shorten the processing time for foster care licensure
That DHHS report cited criteria related to child safety; permanency; child well-being; data keeping; case review; quality assurance; staff/provider training; service array and resource development; agency responsiveness to the community; and foster and adoptive parent licensing, recruitment & retention.
READ THE FULL 2015 REPORT HERE (.pdf)
The results marginally follow a 2007 report, also from the US DHHS, that revealed many of the same issues.
"Our social workers are completely overwhelmed, underserved, and as a result cannot deliver the basics of services in some cases to our children," Barringer said. "How many times are we going to accept the fact that children actually die in the state? Die because they are not properly placed. They are not properly supervised and we're failing to give them the services they need."
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Barringer, who along with her husband, is a former foster parent, said she believes SB594 will make it better across the board for foster children and families.
"Children deserve a home. A healthy home and a family," she said.
Currently, each county manages its own foster care program. SB594 will strip that power from each county and create up to 30 different regions that will govern the state's foster care program.
"We have 100 different counties delivering service in 100 different ways. And some are doing fine jobs, others are failing miserably," Barringer said as she spoke about adoptions across county lines.
"That interaction is a piece of what's missing," said Republican Sen. Sarah Stevens (Surry, Wilkes). "And on the state level, they're not coming in until there is a problem."
SB594 also aims to establish a two-year pilot program for age-eligible foster youth to obtain their driver's license. Aged-out foster children have said getting a driver's license is one opportunity they wish they had, but were never given the chance.
Megan Holmes, a 22-year-old North Carolina Central graduate, recently earned a bachelor's degree in social work. Holmes is working toward becoming a social worker so she can help children and teenagers who share similar experiences as she did growing up. Holmes went into foster care when she was 15 years old and aged out when she turned 21.
"I didn't get my license until I was 20 years old. It's still kind of late in comparison to average teenagers," she told ABC11. "It just would have been really helpful if I was employed, getting to and from work, trying to grow and become the young lady that I am."
Under SB594, Intensive Alternative Family Treatment (IAFT) foster parents looking to adopt may qualify for a waiver that would not require foster parents to be employed.
"Our system is failing. And it's failed on all measures for all audits and it's unacceptable for families in North Carolina," Stevens said.
SB594 will also expedite foster care applications by requiring a decision about pending foster care to be processed within 3 months.
If the bill, which is in its 25th draft, is passed, a workgroup created by the bill will have until March 2019 to come up with 30 regions that will be operational no later than January 1, 2022.
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NC Senate Bill looks to address foster child care problems