CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — North Carolina foster children have begun to endure more challenging situations, including “living” out of cots in jails, DSS offices, and emergency rooms because there are not enough foster families in the state to accommodate them.  

Data collected by Foster Care Capacity has shown that there has been a 20% decrease in licensed families in the past four years.  

At the start of the pandemic, there were 7,185 licensed foster families in the state, but by 2022, the number had dropped to below 5,500.  

There are 11,000 youths in the foster care system in North Carolina.  

Mikaila Reinhardt, who works for The Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, spent part of her childhood in the foster care system.

“We probably get a minimum of five to 10 referrals a day for children, and sometimes those are sibling groups,” Mikaila Reinhardt said.

The Children’s Home Society of N.C. Family Recruitment Specialist spent part of her childhood in the Foster care system but said that she never had to sleep in some of the places children are now.  

“It’s already just a hard situation being the child in foster care,” she said. “But then to have a crisis where things have come down to the pipeline, and the amount of licensed foster parents has decreased, it’s just made it even harder for these kids.”  

Area medical centers, DHHS doing what they can

Novant Health has confirmed that more than a dozen children with complex behavioral health needs live out of Piedmont-Triad emergency rooms. Seven are in the same boat in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.  

A Novant Health representative said, “Pediatric boarding is a multifaceted, nationwide issue stemming from the scarcity of specialized health and social services available to patients with complex behavioral health needs. Currently, seven such patients are being cared for in our facilities across the greater Charlotte market. We are working in close partnership with each family, the Department of Social Services, and other care providers to develop discharge plans that safely meet the needs of our patients.”  

DHHS also released a statement to Queen City News on the situation and said:  

Child and family well-being is a top NCDHHS priority. We take our role in helping families and communities seriously create a safe, nurturing environment where children can achieve their full potential. 

Each week, NCDHHS is aware of at least 50 children statewide who are waiting in an emergency department or with a county department of social services. The majority of these children and youth are waiting to be admitted to a treatment setting that can address their complex behavioral health needs. Two settings can meet these needs 1) an inpatient or residential treatment facility or 2) a willing foster home supported by behavioral health and other services in the community. 

There are not enough of either solution. Facilities have been challenged by COVID-19 and staffing, giving them the reduced capacity. There are not enough foster homes willing and able to care for children with complex behavioral health needs. When a willing foster home is available, the right community supports for these children may not be available nearby. 

NCDHHS continues to promote solutions with partners across the state, including professional foster care. 

Reinhardt explained that housing situations where these children, when not homes available, are based on their case worker.

“It’s going to be a case-by-case basis based on the child’s needs,” Reinhardt added. “It’s going to be whatever the social worker determines is the safest arrangement.” 

Currently, N.C. ranks 39th out of 49 states for child welfare funding.  

State funding low, demand for advocacy waning

There has been a dip in applications filed to become licensed foster families in the state. 

Through Mikaila’s eyes, there has also been a decrease in interest in groups looking to help.

Before the pandemic, organizations, churches, and businesses would invite Children’s Home Society of N.C. representatives to speak about foster care engagement.

Now, those engagements have decreased.  

“It’s hard to get into places to talk about this. It’s hard to get into the churches. It’s hard to get in front of the community and speak about what’s going on because I feel like people don’t want to hear it, but it’s their reality. And so I think the problem is, is people are not listening.”  

Click here to find out how to schedule a speaking engagement or become a foster family.  

Becoming a licensed family takes four to six months, but families could see placement in the first few weeks.  

North Carolina lawmakers have begun to discuss ways to improve funding for foster care systems in a time when employment and support from non-profits have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.  

Currently, N.C. ranks 39th out of 49 states for child welfare funding.  

N.C. House Majority Whip Jon Hardister acknowledged the great need for more money.  

“North Carolina provides millions of dollars for foster services,” Hardister said. “But there’s something called a permissive initiative where we’re looking at providing more money, make it recurring because these programs are proven for those that are fiscally conservative like I am this. This is a good investment. It’s proven that this actually works to keep these kids in foster care.”  

Hardister said N.C. representative Donny Lambeth has begun to draft a bill to give more money to the system.