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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 18, No. 3
June 2013

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.

In the past, reunification services in North Carolina have been provided through the Intensive Family Reunification Services (IFRS) program. Under this program, community-based agencies across the state provided reunification services to foster care-involved families referred to them by county departments of social services.

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
To fix this problem, in 2012 the Division of Social Services obtained feedback from IFRS providers and convened a workgroup of county DSS staff. The conclusion they reached was that the IFRS program needed to be restructured to allow more flexibility in referral and service timeframes.

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
When it debuts July 1, North Carolina's reunification program will operate under a new name: Time-Limited Family Reunification Services.

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.

Important Differences

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:

  1. Individual, group, and family counseling;
  2. Inpatient, residential, or outpatient substance abuse treatment services;
  3. Mental health services;
  4. Assistance to address domestic violence;
  5. Services to provide temporary child care and therapeutic services for families, including crisis nurseries;
  6. Peer-to-peer mentoring and support groups for parents and primary caregivers;
  7. Services and activities designed to facilitate access to and visitation of children by parents and siblings;
  8. Transportation to or from any of the above services and activities.

New Policy
The Division is working to revise North Carolina's reunification policy to be consistent with changes to the program. Expect the new policy, when it appears, to closely mirror the timeframes and other federal requirements for time-limited family reunification services, which are described in Title IV-B, Subpart 2 of the Social Security Act (

Implications for . . .

Families and Children. If the new program works as anticipated, more of the families and children who need reunification services will receive them, which could lead to a greater number of safe, timely, lasting reunifications.

County DSS Agencies. To benefit from the new program, agencies will want to engage their staff, community partners, and the families they serve to assess the areas of greatest need and develop a plan for using time-limited reunification funds to improve outcomes for children and families.

For More Information
Contact the Division's Michelle Reines (; 919/334-1089).