18, No. 3
North Carolina Is Changing Its Family Reunification Program
Starting July 1, 2013, North Carolina is changing its program to help reunify children in foster care with their families.
Unlike its successful sister program, North Carolina's Intensive Family Preservation Services Program, IFRS has struggled for years with underutilization. In other words, county department of social services (DSS) agencies have referred too few families to IFRS providers. According to information gathered by the Division of Social Services, the timeframe requirement for referrals and services is the most common reason DSS agencies have not been using IFRS.
Whatever the cause, underutilization is a serious problem. After all, reunification services are clearly needed: as discussed elsewhere in this issue, as a state we need to improve our performance in this area. Furthermore, underutilization is wasteful. In the most recent 3-year funding cycle, an estimated $2.5 million in federal funding for reunification services went unspent due to lack of referrals.
Addressing the Problem
In partnership with the NC Association of County Directors of Social Services (NCACDSS), the Division formed a workgroup to restructure the IFRS program. The result is a new approach that gives county DSS agencies more control over the delivery of reunification services.
New Name, Same Goals
Like IFRS, the new program will be evaluated based on its ability to achieve the following outcomes: (1) percentage of youth who achieve permanency through reunification within 12 months; and (2) annual percent of children experiencing re-entries into foster care within 12 months of their discharge.
Separation from IFPS. Starting July 1, family reunification services will no longer be contracted in combination with Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS). (The IFPS program will continue unchanged.)
New Funding Approach. Starting July 1, family reunification service funds will be allocated by the Division of Social Services directly to all local county DSS agencies.
To determine the amount each county will get, the Division will use a formula that was developed in partnership with and approved by the NCACDSS. Based on this formula, of the $1.4 million available in the upcoming state fiscal year, the 100 county DSS agencies will receive varying amounts, ranging from $3,000 to approximately $95,000.
New Role for DSS Agencies. County DSS agencies will be responsible for developing a plan to use funds from this new program to provide time-limited reunification services in their community. Per federal requirements, these services may only be provided for the purpose of reunification (not foster care maintenance) within 15 months from the date the child entered foster care. Activities that can be provided with these funds include:
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