Wake senator leading charge to overhaul NC child welfare system

Posted April 5, 2017 12:56 p.m. EDT

— Saying North Carolina's child welfare system has failed too many youngsters for too long, Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, said Wednesday it's time to overhaul the system.

"Children deserve a family, not a system," Barringer, a foster mother herself for 10 years, said during a news conference to discuss Senate Bill 594, which she filed Tuesday.

Dubbed the Family & Child Protection & Accountability Act, the measure would create a regional system to manage foster care, Child Protective Services and other social service programs targeting children by the start of 2022. Barringer said moving from a county-based system to a regional one would ease the workload on overwhelmed case managers, help share and exchange best practices and respond to a crisis faster than the state Division of Social Services would.

"We have 100 counties delivering services 100 different ways," she said. "Some are doing a fine job. Others are failing miserably."

A federal study three years ago of state child welfare systems found that North Carolina failed all 16 criteria measured, even basic safety of children in the system. The state's program also was found lacking in reviews by an independent consultant and the State Auditor's Office.

"How many times do we have be told we are failing before we do something?" Barringer asked. "How many more times will children disappear and us not know what's going on? How many more times are we going to accept the fact that children actually die in this state – die – because they are not properly placed, they're not properly supervised and we're failing to give them the services that they need?"

One of the services lacking is helping teens in foster care get driver's licenses, she said, noting it's hard to get to school or a job when you don't know how to drive. The bill sets aside $75,000 in each of the next two years as a pilot program to help cover the cost of driver's education, license fees and insurance on a first-come, first-served basis.

A group to include representatives from child advocacy groups, social service agencies, county officials and others will develop recommendations for the regional system within two years, and the bill sets aside $3.1 million next year to hire an outside consultant to draw up a plan to reform how the state's child welfare system operates.

The bill has a bipartisan list of sponsors, and Barringer said she hopes to fast-track it to get the process moving as quickly as possible.