Opinion

Boosting child welfare

North Carolina faces a serious and growing problem in handling boys and girls, young men and women, who end up in the hands of the state. Repeated studies have shown inadequacies and shortcomings.

Now, a bipartisan group of state legislators is working toward a bill that would d improve the system. It’s an important task.

Michelle Hughes, who is executive director of NC Child and an advocate for children for two decades, summed up the challenge in a posting on NC Child,s website:

“The child welfare system is a last resort for children who are at risk of serious injury, trauma, or even death. As a society, we have a moral obligation to provide these children with a safe environment where they can begin to recover from their trauma. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s child welfare system is structurally and systemically inadequate to ensure the safety of children who come into its care and to promote their long-term health and recovery.”

The Family Child Protection and Accountability Act would consolidate many county agencies involved in child welfare into regional bodies to increase standardization, provide for better enforcement of standards and for outside evaluation, and would seek to speed up successfully exiting children from the system into a more permanent relationship.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, is a lead sponsor of the act. She has been a foster parent and seen the system from that vantage point as well as from her legislative perspective.

“Our state has seen 25 percent increase in the number of children coming into foster care over the last five years,” Barringer said at a press conference last week explaining the bill. “And both federal and state reviews and audits have identified systemic failures and weaknesses in our system.”

Those include, according to Hughes, a 2015 audit by the federal government that measured seven child welfare outcomes and seven systemic factors. “North Carolina failed in all 14 areas,” she wrote. A 2106 outside audit commissioned by the legislature “revealed pervasive systemic problems with workforce, practice, oversight and administration.”

The bill’s proponents say social worker caseloads are too high, turnover is rapid because of burnout and caseworkers often lack the training to deal with all the issues they confront.

“How many times do we have to be told we are failing before we will do something?” Barringer asked at her press conference, according to NC Health News. “How many more times will children disappear and us not know what’s going on? How many times are we going to accept that children actually die in this state because they are not properly placed and supervised, and we are failing to give them the services they need.”

Those are good questions we are pleased the legislature may seriously address.

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