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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 25, No. 2
April 2020

North Carolina Holds Permanency Leadership Summit

On Nov. 20, 2019, North Carolina held a summit in Raleigh on achieving timely permanence for children and youth in foster care. Titled "Partnership for Permanence: Working Together, Family Forever," the event drew more than 200 leaders and stakeholders from across the state. Attendees represented the courts, child welfare agencies, guardians ad litem, the general assembly, private agencies, and other stakeholders.

Highlights included remarks from Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, and Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, as well as workshops on community stakeholder engagement, including the youth voice, post-permanency services, safe and timely reunification, and NC's Early Childhood Action Plan.

We Can Do Better
Dr. Ralph Bayard of Casey Family Programs opened the event by celebrating the fact our state has seen a decrease in youth entering foster care. "Unfortunately," he noted, "we have also seen a decrease in exits from foster care."

"North Carolina's performance in terms of length of stay in foster care is 36th in the nation," Bayard said. "We can and must do better. For this to happen, the courts and child welfare must work together."

Balancing Competing Principles
Next, summit participants heard from social work scholar Dr. Jill Berrick, who argued that child welfare practitioners labor under an "impossible imperative" to satisfy many competing principles, including safety, permanency, keeping families together, family involvement, kinship connections, and others.

"People talk about this work as if it were simple, but simplicity is a recipe for disaster," Berrick explained. "This work is complex. It requires constant moral choices. Successfully achieving one principle often means elevating it over another important principle."

As a result, Berrick said, even when we succeed, it often doesn't always feel that way. Even successes are vulnerable to criticism, since not all goals of the profession have been achieved.

Dr. Berrick's presentation drew from her book The Impossible Imperative: Navigating the Competing Principles of Child Protection (Oxford Univ. Press, 2019).

Pennsylvania's Roundtables
Summit attendees also learned about the judicially-led, collaboratively-driven approach Pennsylvania used to dramatically reduce the number of youth in foster care and double the use of kinship care.

According to Kim Clark, President Judge of the Family Division of Pennsylvania's 5th Judicial District, and Angela Sager, Judicial Program Analyst with the Pennsylvania Courts, 12 years ago Pennsylvania faced many of the conditions and challenges North Carolina faces today, including a state-supervised, county-administered child welfare system, inconsistent practices at the court and agency levels, inconsistent service delivery and availability, and inconsistent outcomes for families and children.

One key to Pennsylvania's success was the creation of a structure for communication, decision making, and relationship building called "Pennsylvania's Children's Roundtable." These roundtables operate on three levels:

  • Local. A judge in each judicial district co-chairs a roundtable with the county child welfare administrator. Attended by a variety of stakeholders, these groups meet to share information and resolve challenges related to permanency and other issues affecting children.

  • Leadership. Every local children's roundtable sends representatives to meet twice a year with peers from similar-sized counties. Leadership roundtables try to resolve concerns and issues raised by the local roundtables.

  • State. The state roundtable meets once a year to discuss and act on issues of concern raised by Pennsylvania's eight leadership roundtables. The state roundtable's more than a dozen workgroups have focused on many challenges, including improving father engagement, implementing court reviews of cases every three months, and increasing use of kinship placements.

For more on the Children's Roundtables, click here or visit PA's Office of Children and Families in the Courts.

Promoting Permanency in NC
Summit attendees also heard from Lisa Cauley, Deputy Director of Child Welfare Services for the NC Division of Social Services. In her address on "The Future of Foster Care in North Carolina," Cauley described NC's performance and gave an overview of the changes being made to our child welfare system by state and federal laws.

Permanency-related goals in NC's 2020-2024 Child and Family Services Plan and its Early Childhood Action Plan, Cauley stated, demonstrate that North Carolina is serious about improving permanence outcomes for families and children.

Cauley believes the child welfare practice model our state will soon adopt will help bring about this improvement. She predicts, for example, that it would give staff the skills they need to talk with families about concurrent planning--plans that include active, simultaneous efforts toward reunification and an alternative form of permanency.

"We can't wait until reunification is ruled out to begin exploring other avenues of permanence," Cauley said.

Court Partner Reflections on the Summit

An Interview with McKinley Wooten, Director of the NC Administrative Office of the Courts

What were your big takeaways from the summit?
The biggest takeaway for me was that there exists tremendous energy around the State from stakeholders who are committed to timely permanence for our most vulnerable children. I was encouraged by the synergy in the morning World Café breakout session where stakeholders across disciplines worked on concrete solutions to issues affecting timely permanence.

What do you think about the system changes Pennsylvania made to improve permanency outcomes?
The Pennsylvania model provided a useful framework for us to consider in North Carolina. However, because of the size of our State, I think staffing resources would be needed to adequately adopt PA's Children's Roundtable model.

Anything else you would like to share about the summit?
In a State where local resources vary immensely, I was encouraged by an ongoing theme throughout the day that collaboration is the most cost-effective way to make needed system changes.

References for this and other articles in this issue