GREENSBORO, N.C. — There's a concerning problem in Guilford County.
Too many foster kids and not enough foster homes.
It's forcing the department of social services to house some of the kids in the Department of Social Services office building.
WFMY News 2's Itinease McMiller learned how the problem got so bad.
DSS said they're seeing more kids in need of foster homes than ever before. All while dealing with a decline in foster families.
On top of that, shelters don't have enough beds for kids with higher-level needs.
That's why some lights at the Guilford County Maple Street DSS building are staying on after hours.
In an effort to keep kids from sleeping on the streets, DSS has a handful of kids temporarily sleeping in their office spaces.
Julie Smith with DSS said it's temporary until workers can find somewhere better.
"We do not leave children alone in the building. We make sure that staff is present and that they are trained and able to care for them," Smith said. "We try to make it as home-like as we can obviously it's an office setting so it's not going to feel like home."
Smith said over the past year, this has become a consistent need.
Within a month's time, she said fewer than 10 kids are coming in.
Right now there are two kids sleeping in their offices.
"It's stressful for the children it's stressful for the staff. It's not the level of service we want to provide for kids especially when they're going through trauma and have likely been through a lot of trauma in their life," Smith said.
Smith said the kids staying in their offices have higher-level needs like behavioral, mental, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, so they can't go into group home settings.
And most are teenagers.
"That can often be a hard group to place both in foster care and adoption. You also have sibling groups. We really want to keep them together," Smith said. "Transparently sometimes the child does not want to go into the placement they need. We want to provide the accommodations that prevent more trauma and provide healing for them sometimes that working with the child to say okay you want to stay here we'll stay here tonight."
DSS is working with the Guilford County board of commissioners to come up with solutions.
Commission chair Skip Alston said this is not acceptable, but the best option they've got.
"We have allocated some of our American Rescue Plan funds in order to try to increase the pay," Skip said. "For those parents who are taking in foster kids into their homes and we are looking at other alternatives as far as being able to locate the kids with close relatives or grandparents or aunt or cousin so we don't have to take them out of their environment that they are used to. So we are exploring options."
County commissioners will talk about the issue Thursday during their annual retreat to figure out what to do. Meantime, if you'd like to help, visit the county's foster parent page.
DSS released the following statement since the incident:
"When no placement is available for children who are ordered into custody through the courts, the county must determine a safe place for them to stay. During the pandemic, counties across the state, including Guilford, experienced an increased demand for placement coupled with declining options for that placement. We are working to address a reduction in the number of licensed foster homes for children with lower-level needs. A greater challenge is what is called Level 3 placement, which requires a higher level of care through a congregate care or transitional care settings. During the pandemic, we saw a reduction in the beds available in those facilities in part due to staffing shortages (legally, we must have a specific staff-to-child ratio). Because DSS agencies across the state are experiencing similar issues, often multiple counties are competing for very limited spots in transitional/congregate care facilities. As a result, our DSS office, like others in the state, has had to take measures to provide care for children in placement, particularly those with high-level needs, that has included allowing a limited number of children to stay in DSS office facilities temporarily with DSS staff until a placement can be identified. This is of concern to our leadership team, the Board of County Commissioners, and our partners and providers. Our DSS Director and the Board of Commissioners have added funding to both recruit and add new foster parents through a partnership with the Children’s Home Society, as well as dedicating funding to identify more transitional care for youth who cannot be placed in foster care due to safety concerns, and other efforts. We are in close contact with our LME/MCO (Sandhills) and Juvenile Justice system counterparts to identify ways to address demand on the system and available options for higher-level placements. In addition, we continue to have conversations with county partners regionally and statewide who are experiencing the same issue to share information and explore ways to address this demand."
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also released a statement:
Child and family well-being is a top NCDHHS priority, and we take seriously our role in helping families and communities create a safe, nurturing environment where children can achieve their full potential.
There is an urgent crisis of children with complex behavioral health needs who come into the care of child welfare offices or emergency rooms because there is nowhere for them to go. The dozens of children involved with the child welfare system each week in North Carolina who are “living” in emergency departments or child welfare offices need safe and stable homes, treatment and supports and enough child welfare and child behavioral health staff to meet the needs of children and families. More investment is needed as North Carolina has the lowest per child spending in child welfare among peer states with county-administered systems and ranks 36th among 49 states overall.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen an increase in demand for residential services for children and youth and a decrease in service capacity due to staffing shortages. We work daily with local social service agencies and LME/MCOs to help identify and coordinate resources to connect DSS involved children and youth with appropriate services.