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2008 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 13, No. 3
July 2008

Overview of Resource Parent R&R in North Carolina

How does North Carolina do when it comes to recruiting and retaining (R&R) families for children in foster care?

North Carolina’s Strengths
Our county-administered, state-supervised child welfare system has many characteristics that support the ability of public child welfare agencies to find families for children in foster care. Our system enables the state to set policy and provide guidance while acknowledging and fostering the ability of agencies to understand local needs, make timely decisions, and take innovative actions on behalf of children and families.

Collaboration between the state and local levels is helped by strong partnerships between the Division of Social Services and the NC Association of County Directors of Social Services, NC Foster & Adoptive Parent Association, and networks of foster and adoptive parent recruiters.

County agencies also rely heavily on private agencies to help them find families for children in foster care. As of February 29, 2008 there were 7,129 foster homes in our state. Of these 3,158 (44%) were supervised by DSS agencies and 3,971 (56%) were supervised by our state’s 93 private agencies. These partnerships are beneficial in many ways to the children and agencies involved.

County DSS agencies also partner with NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network, which offers a variety of supportive services at no charge to public agencies, including a hotline (877-NCKIDS-1) in English and Spanish for families from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. NC Kids staff speak with callers about foster care and adoption, connect callers with child-placing agencies, and follow up with each caller to ensure no family is lost while navigating the system.

Much of the success of North Carolina’s R&R programs must also be attributed to the values, dedication, and drive of people across our state. From child welfare professionals to families, countless individuals are deeply committed to helping children. This is perhaps our greatest strength.

Resource Family Retention in NC
North Carolina does not currently possess detailed data about the rate at which resource families leave the child welfare system. However, there is evidence to suggest that many do exit each year: although the system added 1,851 new foster homes in State Fiscal Year (SFY) 06-07, the actual number of licensed foster homes increased by only 738 from the previous year, suggesting turnover among licensed foster parents in our state is an issue.

North Carolina’s Needs
As is the case with every person, agency, and system, North Carolina has needs as well as strengths. The challenges our state faces are reflected in findings from a foster parent recruitment and retention survey completed by the UNC-CH School of Social Work earlier this year.

Sixty-eight of NC’s 100 county DSS agencies participated in the survey; respondents represent each region of the state and agencies of different sizes, including 11 large agencies, 24 medium-sized agencies, and 33 small agencies. At the time of the survey 8,885 children were in the custody of these 68 agencies; this represents approximately 83% of the 10,605 North Carolina children in foster care on February 29, 2008 (Duncan, et al., 2008).

The survey identified the following needs:

Separating Siblings. Every responding agency reported that at some time it had been forced to separate siblings in foster care due to a lack of foster families: 70% of responding agencies said they often (10.4%) or sometimes (59.7%) place siblings separately because they lack foster homes that can accommodate them.

This is contrary to North Carolina’s child welfare services standards, which state that “Siblings shall be placed together whenever possible, unless contrary to the child’s developmental, treatment, or safety needs.” This policy exists because brothers and sisters separated from each other in foster care may experience trauma, anger, and an extreme sense of loss. Research suggests separating siblings may make it difficult for them to begin healing, make attachments, and develop a healthy self-image (McNamara, 1990).

Inappropriate Use of Group Care. Although North Carolina policy states that children removed from their homes should be placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting in which their needs can be met, responding agencies reported 5.6% of children in their custody live in group placements solely due to a lack of available resource families.

This is a concern because evidence continues to mount that residential placements can be detrimental for children: Ryan and colleagues (2008) found that youth who enter group home placements are nearly two and a half times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system compared to similar youths placed in family foster care. Residential placements have also been linked to reduced permanency outcomes compared to family foster care (Barth, 2002).

Placement Distance. Nine percent of children in foster care in the responding agencies are placed more than a one-hour drive away from their birth family’s home. This problem is more pronounced in smaller counties, where an average of 27% of children are placed more than one-hour away from home.

This is contrary to state policy, which requires agencies to place children within close proximity to their families. Long distances can make arranging visits with birth families more difficult. This in turn can negatively affect children, since research has linked frequent visits with improved child well-being (White et al., 1996; Cantos & Gries, 1997) and more timely reunification (Mech, 1985).

Finding Families for Teens. Survey respondents reported they need about 1,200 more foster families for teens, which is not surprising: teens are vastly overrepresented in residential placements in our state.

Finding Families for Minorities. The federal Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) directs child welfare agencies to recruit resource families that reflect the characteristics and communities of children in foster care. In North Carolina nonwhite children made up only 30.6% of the state’s population between the ages 0-17 in 2003 (NC Data Ctr, 2006). Yet African-American children made up 40.52% of the children in foster care in April 2008.

Responding agencies want to improve their ability to recruit minority foster parents: 70% said they have difficulty recruiting foster parents from minority groups. The average responding agency wants to recruit 8 more African American families, 2 more Native American families, and 5 more Latino families. Once minority foster parents are licensed, however, agencies don’t believe they have a problem—75% say they have no difficulty retaining minority foster parents.

Children with Significant Medical and/or Developmental Needs. The average responding agency would like to recruit 6 additional foster families for children with significant medical and/or developmental needs.

Fragmentation. In addition to findings from the survey, ongoing contact with county DSS agencies has led the Division to conclude that fragmentation also undermines efforts to find and retain resource families. In some agencies, retention of resource families is seen solely as the job of the workers who license and train foster parents. In reality all interactions with all agency staff have a large influence on the families’ feelings about the agency. Improving collaboration and communication across the agency is crucial to increasing the satisfaction and commitment among resource families (AECF, 2001; Rodger et al. 2006).

Overconcern with Jurisdiction and Competition for Resources. The Division also believes that jurisdictional issues sometimes shift county agencies’ focus away from ensuring the safety, well-being, and permanence of children and their families. While many agencies readily share effective practices with one another and pool resources (e.g., allowing prospective resource families to attend training in an adjoining county), others do not.

A possible solution to this challenge is discussed in the article "In Favor of a Regional Approach to Resource Family R&R."

This article describes the tremendous resources and strengths North Carolina has to draw upon to find families for children in foster care, as well as the challenges it is experiencing in this area. To explore why we experience these challenges and to learn what you can do to help, read on.

References for this and other articles in this issue