By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 13, 2020
In an effort to recruit new foster parents, Dare County will begin offering a 10-week training and informational class that begins in about a month, on March 16. The goal is to replenish what local officials say are the constantly changing numbers of volunteers in this crucial area of social services.
In Dare County, there are currently 25 children in the foster care program — although that number can fluctuate greatly — with a total of 21 licensed foster parents.
“People ask all the time why we’re always recruiting [foster parents] and if we are losing people, and really, the answer is yes,” said Brittany Canter, a Dare County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) social worker who oversees the foster parent training program for the county.
While the exact numbers are not finalized, Dare County experienced a record number of cases in the past year in which foster parents ended up adopting children that had been placed in their care. And, according to Casey Family Programs, a national foundation dedicated to safely reducing the need for foster care, the number of children under 18 living in foster care in North Carolina increased from 8,511 in 2010 to 10,538 in 2017. Canter said that the high rate of foster care adoptions both locally and statewide is largely a result of substance abuse in those families. In a significant number of those cases, she noted, “the issue at hand, most of the times drugs, has been a family issue so it’s not like there’s other family to step up,” she asserted.
She noted that while children typically come into foster care as a result of various forms of substance abuse by parents, a majority of the cases are related to alcohol abuse — although recently there has been an uptick in cases involving methamphetamine. Prevention work and other interventions are exhausted before bringing children into foster care. And the goal, officials point out, is to return the child to his or her birth parents.
“We’ll use foster parents…during that time while we’re trying to get [children] back to mom and dad and if that falls through, then we start looking outside of the county, our even oftentimes outside of the state for family,” Canter explained. “We always place [children in foster care] with the idea that they will not be there long.”
DHHS Children’s Services Coordinator Sally Helms told the Voice that the department’s plan for foster children and their families is court-driven, and that while the agency makes recommendations, the ultimate decision on when and if the child returns to the care of a birth parent is decided by a judge.
To be a foster parent, a person must be at least 21, can be single, married or partnered, and either rent or own a home. As for recruiting potential foster parents, Canter said, “We really like to have a diverse pool because our kids who come into care are diverse.”
“Foster parents come from all walks of life,” Dare County Social Services Director Chuck Lycett offered. “They’re young and all the way up to retired. They’re self-employed, they’re teachers. They work full-time, they are stay-at-home moms.”
Lycett said that ideally, foster parents would be open to fostering children of any age, but that they can certainly indicate preferences based on their comfort level with particular ages and family make-up.
“What we ask is that they are open to whoever we may show up with,” acknowledged Lycett. “They may have somebody for two or three weeks…and then those children are no longer in their home. And then they’re available two days later, and we have one child coming in with totally different circumstances.”
Helms notes that one reason for the constant recruitment of new foster parents is so that there are more opportunities to appropriately match children to families. Social workers closely walk potential foster parents through the steps to becoming certified, and Canter explained that they continue to work hand-in-hand with them before and after children in the foster program are placed in the home, helping with everything from securing doctor’s appointments to maintaining a relationship with birth parents.
And Lycett encouraged those who may want to learn more to attend the 10-week class that begins in March.
“Anybody who has ever been interested in becoming a foster parent, it’s really good for them to go through the class to begin to learn if this is something you really want to do,” he said. “Participating in the class and learning about the realities of being a foster parent will help them decide whether this is the way to go.”
(For more information about the upcoming training class, visit https://www.darenc.com/departments/health-human-services-/our-units/childrens-services/foster-parenting)