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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 1, No. 3
Spring 1996

In Pursuit of Permanence: North Carolina's Families for Kids Counties

When the bottom line is promoting permanence for families and children, what form does prevention take?

This is the question we posed to Cleveland and Edgecombe counties, two of the eight North Carolina counties participating in the North Carolina's Familes for Kids initiative, which aims at finding a permanent home within one year for every child in foster care. The answers we received revealed the resourcefulness of those who are determined to push themselves to improve outcomes for the families and children they serve.

Uncommon Collaboration

Some might consider Jay Taylor to be something of an anomaly. And they're probably right.

What makes Taylor so unusual is that he is a psychologist employed by Cleveland County Mental Health who has his office located in the Cleveland County, North Carolina Department of Social Services.

"For years people advocated for a psychologist to be stationed in DSS," says Bob Hensley, Cleveland County's DSS Administrator. "When we received a notice from Family Support/Family Preservation ( in the North Carolina Division of Social Services) soliciting grant applications, we realized we had an opportunity to make it happen." Working together, Cleveland County's mental health and social services wrote a proposal that mental health submitted.

Once they were awarded the grant, Hensley says, "we spent a long time looking for the right person. Mental Health made sure that someone from DSS was on the search committee so that we'd get someone who fit the position." Jay Taylor is the one they chose.

Since April, Taylor has been performing an initial assessment on every new child who comes into DSS custody, making referrals to mental health or other agencies when appropriate.

Taylor is also available for consultation with family preservation services, child protective services treatment and investigation, and intake workers.

"I love it," Taylor says of his new job. "Of course, DSS did their job very well before I came on board--I'm just an additional resource."

Cleveland DSS lets foster and adoptive parents know about the new psychologist in their midst, encouraging them to approach Taylor with questions or requests for assessments. There are times when they can drop by every Tuesday for unstructured, group-style consultation where they can get answers to their questions and learn about what other foster parents are experiencing.

In addition to working with those families who are the direct focus of the Families for Kids initiative, Jay Taylor is part of the Families for Kids community assessment team; with the other members of the team, he is coming up with strategies to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care in Cleveland County.

Ultimately, having a psychologist on staff will help Cleveland County meet its goal of permanence. Through their initial psychological assessment with Jay Taylor, the specific mental health needs of children--for example, developmental disabilities or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder--can be identified and quickly addressed.

This, in turn, may help caseworkers make an informed decision about where to place the child in question, preventing placement disruption.

New Resources, New Services

In Edgecombe County, North Carolina, the desire to prevent out-of-home placement led the Department of Social Services there to apply, with neighboring Nash County, North Carolina, for a Family Support/Family Preservation grant.

Realizing that the amount they applied for was not enough to fund a new child welfare position as they had initially hoped, Edgecombe has been applying the $20,000 they did receive to good use. Now all existing child welfare and Work First workers can offer essential services to support families in crisis.

These services often take the form of financial assistance that will enable families at risk of out-of-home placement to keep their children at home. For qualified families, money is now available so they can attend parenting classes, obtain services needed to gain or maintain employment, and survive crisis situations such as imminent eviction.

This Families for Kids county is also using money from this grant to promote kinship care. In the past, financial constraints sometimes forced people to turn away a relative's child who needed a temporary home. Edgecombe County DSS can now offer financial assistance in these cases, making it possible for children to be placed with people they know and love.

Edgecombe County is the recipient of more than fiscal resources, however. The county's foster parents--and in some cases foster children--have started stepping forward to recruit new foster parents and to promote North Carolina's Families for Kids. Together, they hope to cultivate community ownership of the initiative's goals and to inspire more families to open their doors to children who need good care and a safe place to stay.

Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that focuses on the innovations in Familes for Kids counties.

1996 Jordan Institute for Families