Two bipartisan pieces of legislation making positive changes to the state’s foster care program are on the way to becoming law.
Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for abused, neglected, and dependent children who are in need of a safe place to live when their parents (or other relative) cannot properly take care of them.
Often, these children and their families face issues such as abuse, neglect, illness, alcohol or drug addiction, and homelessness. When the county Department of Social Services (DSS) determines that a child is not safe — and a judge agrees — the agency takes custody of that child, severing all legal ties between the parent and child (called “termination of parental rights.”) The state then does its best to find the child a foster home.
Because the state has legal custody of the child when he or she is in foster care (and not the foster parents themselves) it’s very difficult — if not impossible — for those children to get permission to participate in many group activities that other children may take for granted, such as school outings, camping trips, and other cultural, social, and extracurricular activities.
The Foster Care Family Act will change that. Senate Bill 423 gives foster parents more freedom to make these decisions for children in their care by establishing a common-sense “reasonable and prudent parent standard.”
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate last month and in the House last week. Representative McGrady co-sponsored identical legislation, House Bill 407, earlier this year.
“This bill brings to our attention that when these children have been either brutally abused or severely neglected and come into the foster care system, that we set them on the sidelines of life,” said Senator Tamara Barringer, the primary sponsor of SB423. “They are generally not allowed to go on field trips. They’re not allowed to go and spend the night with friends because the custody remains with the state — not with the foster parent. So, they don’t get to go to Biltmore House with their school because there’s nobody to sign the permission slip. This bill, the Foster Care Family Act, will impose a ‘prudent parent standard’ and will allow those foster families to actually have these children be part of their family in a real way and not just sit on the sidelines.”
SB423 also reduces similar barriers to obtaining a driver license by foster children, provides liability insurance for foster parents, and directs the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to study a Medicaid waiver for children with serious emotional disturbance.
Senate Bill 424 (also sponsored by Senator Barringer) extends the age and benefits under foster care from 18 years to 21 years, thus providing additional critical support for children in foster care as they transition towards adulthood and independence under the following circumstances: if the child under care is 1) completing high school or a GED, 2) enrolled in college or a vocational program, 3) participating in an employment program 4) employed for at least 80 hours per month, or 5) is incapable of completing one of these requirements due to a medical condition or disability.
“We turn out 500 children every year,” continued Senator Barringer. “We ‘age them out,’ as they say. Many people did not know that at age 18 — no matter where these young adults were — we turn them out on the streets. They were just out there to fend for themselves. And, frankly, it was a direct pipeline, for at least half of them, to prison, early pregnancy, and substance abuse.”
Senator Barringer, a Republican from Wake County, talked about her tireless, lifelong work on behalf of foster families and children, and her recent work on foster care legislation on UNC-TV’s Legislative Week in Review [Kelly McCullen’s interview with Senator Barringer begins at the 22:00 minute mark.]
“I am absolutely passionate about foster care,” said Senator Barringer. “My husband and I were therapeutic foster parents with the Methodist Home for Children for ten years. We had children in our home that had been locked in closets, strapped in car seats, not changed or fed for hours. We had children in our home that had been sexually abused at the early age of three months and were life-flighted to Chapel Hill — horrible, horrible abuses. And we did that for 10 years. And when we retired from that, we both made a commitment that when there would be an opportunity to do more with the system rather than help one child at a time, that I would take that up. And that’s what I have done by coming to the North Carolina Senate.”
The current proposed Senate and House budgets both include a $4.5 million appropriation in FY2016 and $7.5 million appropriation in FY2017 to fund the expected increase in foster care caseloads.
These improvements build on the progress of the bipartisan Foster Care Children’s Bill of Rights, passed last session, which requires that children be fully informed of their rights as they enter the child welfare system.
North Carolina is fortunate to have nearly 50 licensed private agencies that help children get placed into adoptive and foster care all across the state. Please click here for a complete list (by county) of private agencies that specialize in foster child, domestic infant and international adoptions.
And for more information on fostering a child in need of a stable and loving home, please visit NC Kids: Adoption & Foster Care Network or call them at (877) 625-4371 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.