A budget decision by the Guilford County Department of Social Services is forcing an agency specializing in placing siblings together to close.
GREENSBORO, NC -- The lives of 19 foster children in Guilford County are in limbo.
They are children who have been neglected, abused or traumatized by their parents and were taken into the Department of Social Services for a better life.
Neighbor To Family, a foster care agency that specializes in placing siblings together in one home, has found a stable foster home for the children.
But now, a budget decision by the Guilford County Department of Social Services is forcing the agency to close.
The agency says it might mean some siblings will be separated.
"That's too difficult to imagine," said Zoe't Reyes. Not too long ago, she was in the same situation.
Until two years ago, the 13-year-old never knew a stable home.
"[Our] biological mom did not want [us],' said Autumn Reyes, Zoe't's eldest sister.
Zoe't, Autmun and their brothers and sisters have been passed around to three different homes since they were born.
At one time, they couldn't see each other for an entire year.
"It hurt. I tried to get contact with them and it did not work," Autumn explained.
But that's in the past.
Jeanie Reyes found them and has made a home for all six under one roof. Including her biological children, she now 13 kids.
"This has been the best few years of my life. I feel happy," Autumn said.
Reyes says her family is a great example why Guilford County DSS needs to help keep the doors at Neighbor To Family Foster Care agency open.
"I think they are the only agency in Guilford County that pushes to put siblings of three or more together," Reyes said. "When my husband and I were going through our licensing procedure, not one group approached us except Neighbor To Family about keeping sibling groups of three or more together."
The agency is expected to close its doors in June.
Guilford County DSS says it is cutting the budget for Neighbor To Family.
For four years, the director says Guilford County DSS has paid the agency about $88 per day, per child. About 14% of the money went towards running the program.
Based on the new offer, that daily rate has been cut to an average of $20 or about an average of $563 a month based on the county's calculations.
It's in line with what the state suggests foster parents get paid. The last four years, the county has added a little more for the agency to cover administrative costs.
"They are offering to pay us no more than [$20]. If that's the agreed upon rate that the foster parents are supposed to receive then that means they are not giving us any administrative costs," Mary Dowdell, Neighbor To Family executive director said.
The agency has five employees.
One has been laid off and now all four will need new jobs soon.
The president of the national agency has written local leaders asking for a meeting to explain why $20 a month isn't enough. The agency says their requests were never honored.
"I think everyone at every level suffers some. The staff here, the foster parents, and ultimately the children," Dowdell said.
Representatives at Guilford County DSS refused to go on camera with WFMY News 2 to explain the department's reason behind the decision.
A spokesperson, instead, emailed saying, the decision is a "cost-effective" move and "The State board and care rate will be paid to all providers that provide services to Guilford County foster children."
The concern from Neighbor To Family is that the 19 children currently in the system will have to be split up, if the foster parents can't transfer their licenses by June.
"A lot of siblings need to be together so they know that they have each other," said Zoe't.