2000 Jordan Institute
North Carolina Issues Challenge for Children
Citing the success of the North Carolina's Families for Kids counties, the North Carolina Division of Social Services began 1997 by challenging county departments of social services to reduce the amount of time children spend in DSS custody. Currently the median length of stay in DSS custody for a child in North Carolina is 518 days, according to the N.C. Child Placement Information and Tracking System.
In a letter sent out in January, N.C. Division of Social Services Director Kevin M. FitzGerald issued a "Challenge for Children" and asked each of the directors of social services in the state's 100 counties to make reduction of the foster care backlog a top priority during 1997. The "backlog" is made up of all children who remain in the custody or placement responsibility of a county department of social services for more than 12 months.
Part of the inspiration for the challenge comes from the Families for Kids initiative. "Although this goal (reducing the backlog) seems challenging in light of available resources," FitzGerald writes, "our Families for Kids initiative has demonstrated that important progress is possible through establishing backlog reduction and 'one year to permanence' as a clear agency priority." By increasing the amount of teamwork in their agencies, collaborating with other agencies, and involving the community, he says, "the Families for Kids counties have reduced the number of children in the backlog by 5 percent."
Those county North Carolina DSS's that accept the Challenge for Children have been asked to submit a statement of acceptance to the N.C. Division of Social Services bearing the signatures of all of the agency's child welfare social work and supervisory staff. So that the state can track their success at reducing the backlog, each participating county must also submit demographic information for each child who was in the backlog on January 1, 1997. Next year, the Division will ask for information on children in the backlog on January 1, 1998.
The Division will publicly recognize those counties that succeed in making significant reductions in the foster care backlog during 1997. Recognition will come in the form of news releases, press conferences, celebrations in the counties, and letters of commendation to boards of county commissioners, county managers, and legislative representatives.
Although a final list was not available at press time, at least 58 counties accepted the challenge by the April 15 deadline. "We're very excitedthe response has really been great," says Sara Anderson-Mims, Community Coordinator for the Division. "North Carolina's Challenge for Children Counties Preliminary List" provides a partial list of those who have accepted the challenge.
© 1997 Jordan Institute for Families