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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 25, No. 2
April 2020

Families Love Wake County's New Family Visitation Center

Family time, or parent-child visits, are the most effective yet under-utilized tool we have in child welfare for moving families toward permanency (Nesmith, 2013). Whether a parent visits with their child consistently is the strongest indicator of whether reunification will occur (Leathers, et. al 2010; Ansay & Perkins, 2001).

By being purposeful in how we structure, plan, and implement family time, we create opportunities for parents to maintain their connection to their child, for children to build secure attachment, and for families to heal (Smariga, 2007).

The following factors have been proven to reduce the length of time a child spends in foster care:

  • Frequency of visits: regular contact with the parent helps children cope with grief, manage the trauma of separation, decrease anxiety, and adjust to their placement.

  • Location of visits: family time is significantly enhanced when it occurs in a comfortable, natural environment where the family has privacy and access to age appropriate activities.

  • Relationship between the social worker and the parent: birth parents state they want a relationship with their social worker where they can tell their story, be honest about their feelings, and receive support without judgment. When this occurs, they are more likely to work with the social worker and the agency. They are also much more likely to work their plan by addressing the safety concerns that led to their child being in care.

(Cheng, 2010; White, Albers & Bitonti, 1996; JIF, 2018)

Applying What We Know
Wake County has put these best practice recommendations in action via Wake House, its family visitation center. Formerly a group home for boys, Wake House is a residential visitation center for children and families--one of the first in our state.

Wake County changed their practices around family time in late 2018. Before then, visits were held in their human services office building. According to Paige Rosemond, Wake County's Child Welfare Director, "visits were in a 10x10 room, cramped, sterile. Parents had to walk past what could be their peers or other community members to be able to access the visitation. They couldn't take their children to the bathroom without someone with badge access" (Blanford, 2019). Wake County wanted to do something new--to get outside the box.

The Vision
With Wake House, Wake County created an environment that is comfortable and relaxing--where families can be themselves (Wake County Human Services, 2019).

Wake House is truly a house. This family visitation center has a living room, a fully stocked kitchen, multiple private rooms for families, and a large backyard with a basketball court. At Wake House, parents can cook dinner while their children do homework. Families are able to eat meals together around the dining room table. They can relax, watch TV, play video games, and read books together.

Parents say it "feels like home" and enjoy coming there. Children are now excited to come to their visits (Wake County Human Services, 2019).

What's more, parents are assigned a visitation coach who provides education, mentoring, and support to help them be more successful in their interactions with their children. Parenting classes are also held at Wake House (Blanford, 2019).

Improved Outcomes
Recently, Wake County has seen some very positive changes in permanency outcomes for children and youth in foster care. Since 2018, family reunification has increased by 71%, average time in care has decreased by 132 days, and the number of youth in care has decreased 65% (WakeGov, 2019). Because it makes use of so much of what we know about successful visits, it seems likely Wake House will help Wake County sustain or even improve its permanency outcomes.

To Learn More
To learn more about implementing similar practices around family time in your county, consider taking the two-day classroom course, Visitation Matters. Here, you will learn how to prepare parents, caregivers, and youth for family time; how to minimize the trauma to the family; and how to use visits to push families toward permanency. To register, North Carolina county child welfare staff should log in to

To learn more about Wake House, consult the following:

References for this and other articles in this issue