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Strengthening Families Act: NC Ahead of of Curve

The federal Strengthening Families Act helps normalize the lives of children in the foster care system. Credit: taylorschlades/morguefile
The federal Strengthening Families Act helps normalize the lives of children in the foster care system. Credit: taylorschlades/morguefile
December 9, 2015

WINSTON-SALEM, N. C. – The holidays may be a little easier for at least some of the 10,000 children in North Carolina's foster care system. The federal Strengthening Families Act, signed into law last year, requires states to make changes to help normalize the lives of children in the system.

North Carolina is already taking action. It passed two bills earlier this year that raised to 21 the age at which children "age out" out of the system, and made it easier for them to participate in typical activities.

Alex Hudson, executive director of Youth in Transition, a community initiative helping young people bridge between foster care and adulthood, is pleased about the progress.

"This really is a change in how we do business in supporting these young people," says Hudson. "How do we navigate through social workers, court systems, biological parents, foster parents, group homes, school systems? There's some complex systems that these young people are having to navigate through."

This week, the Jim Casey Initiative – part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation – released a report emphasizing the importance of implementing all requirements in the Strengthening Families Act, including engaging young people in their own case planning starting at age 14 and reducing group placement for children.

While much of the red tape in the foster care system is intended to protect children, Todd Lloyd, AECF senior policy associate, says it sometimes proves cumbersome and even harmful in practice.

"Because it has been a system oriented toward safety and protecting children, it's very easy to create policies that are overly restrictive out of concern for safety and also, the liability," Lloyd explains.

Hudson adds while many aspects of the Strengthening Families Act and North Carolina's new laws prescribe specific changes to improve the foster care system, it's also important for everyone involved in these children's lives keep in mind the overall goal.

"What supportive care looks like for a 19-year old who's trying to get through college should look different from a nine-year-old," says Hudson. "From the courts, from the case planning, from how the young person engages, those would be the changes that need to happen and continue to happen from a budgeting side."

The report recommends that kids in foster care be able to participate in after-school activities and camps, get school pictures, have access to a telephone, and be able to learn to drive a car and travel with other youth and adults.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC