In Durham, A Push for Social Services Reforms Away from Foster Care
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
There's a nationwide effort to reform child welfare systems, and in North Carolina, Durham advocates said the retirement of the county's longtime social services director offers an opportunity to consider new approaches to strengthen kinship ties and limit the painful impact of involuntary family separation.
Elizabeth Simpson, strategic director and attorney for the group Emancipate NC, has spent the past year interviewing foster and biological parents, attorneys, social workers and others involved.
She explained evidence shows separation is deeply traumatic for children, and added when it is possible and safe, offering supports to keep the integrity of the household intact improves outcomes for families.
"There's a growing consensus nationwide that our child welfare system has focused too much on removing children from their homes," Simpson contended.
Strict restrictions placed on visitation also pose challenges for family reunification. Simpson noted when cases take years to close, kids grow up estranged from biological family. She described cases when a new mother is only able to visit with her newborn one or two hours a week.
"And that's really not giving a mom an opportunity to bond with her baby," Simpson asserted. "Or really treating the case as if it is genuinely going to be a reunification case. "
Simpson pointed to a need to allocate federal funding directly into homes with problems, with the goal of improving parents' ability to care for a child, rather than pouring money into institutions or the foster-care system.
"Use that federal money to provide resources for parents that need it to make sure they have stable housing, have access to food counseling, whatever resources they need to make that home more stable," Simpson urged.
According to federal data from last year, the number of children in foster care continues to drop, with an estimated 400,000 children in the system in 2020.
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