GREENSBORO, N.C. — There aren’t enough foster homes to accommodate the growing number of foster children in Guilford County.
This has forced the department of social services to house some of the kids in the Department of Social Services office building.
On top of that, shelters don't have enough beds for kids with higher-level needs.
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, in the public relations department with Guilford County, said it's temporary until workers can find somewhere better.
Smith said over the past year, this has become a consistent need.
"Throughout the pandemic, we saw a ripple effect in the system. We had more placements than we’ve seen before and at the same time we were seeing a decline in our foster parents and we were seeing a decline in the number of beds available to children who needed a higher level of care," Smith said.
Right now there are two kids sleeping in their offices.
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.
"We’ve had to look for all possible ways to care for those kids we’ve had to have some of our staff stay with children in our offices because we just didn’t have appropriate other locations for them to go to," Smith explained.
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 know that’s not the proper place for them to sleep we are working with our staff. If they have to stay in the offices at least they are off the streets they are taken care of as far as covert and food are concerned and a place to rest their head. But that is not acceptable at all for Guilford County. We are making a more assertive effort to make sure we get more foster care homes and make sure we get in contact with close relatives. We are doing that on a day-to-day basis," Alston said.
Guilford County works with Children's Home Society to recruit foster parents.
Family recruitment specialist, Aesha Ealey said it doesn't take as much as you think to become a foster parent.
"In order to be a foster parent you need to have the desire and the heart to care and support children for one. You have to have enough space in your home, adequate income, you don’t have to be rich or anything we just wanna know that you have enough money to cover your expenses and a little bit of cushion leftover,” Ealey explained.
Ealey said foster parents play a key role by not just helping children who may need a home, but also supporting biological families when they are experiencing a crisis. Foster families are able to provide temporary placements for children during these times.
Right now, there are over 12,000 children in the foster care system in our state, according to Children's Home Society.
"We’ve seen trends over the past few years of the number of foster families going down with the number of children going up so we urgently need more families that are willing to help support children so that we can find them a safe place to go while their families make progress," Ealey said.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners dedicated American Rescue Plan funds to the Children's Home Society to recruit more foster parents because of the significant drop in parents during the pandemic.
County commissioners will talk about the issue during their annual retreat to figure out what to do.
Information meetings are held each month for interested parents wanting to foster.
People can visit foster.guilfordcountync.gov or call 336-641-KIDS to sign up.
This is an information-only session. Someone must go through a certification process before they are able to become a foster parent.
Youth Focus is an organization that provides group homes, outpatient counseling services, substance use treatment, intensive in-home therapy, therapeutic foster care, medication management, residential substance use treatment, emergency and supportive housing, therapeutic schools, and residential psychiatric treatment in Guilford County.
The organization released the statement below following the growing issue.
As an organization, we are aware of what is happening with the youth at the DSS office, and it is devastating. We work closely with Guilford DSS and typically serve many youth who are in their custody at our shelter.
The issues with the youth staying there is not exclusively a shelter bed capacity issue. We could have 20 open beds and still be unable to safely serve all the youth sleeping at the DSS office. To understand what is happening is a much bigger issue within the youth mental health system. Our shelter program is an unleveled, unlocked facility. We serve minors 11-17 who can safely be served in a group setting. We asses every youth who enters our doors and are obligated to turn referrals away that are out of our scope of service. We have to ensure our program is safe for every youth who enters our doors and unfortunately that means we are unable to serve all youth who need help. It’s like showing up to a pediatrician appointment and expecting them to perform surgery in their office. They don’t have that expertise and it’s not in their scope of service. That person needs to go to an emergency room/hospital or see a surgeon to be taken care of appropriately.
It breaks our hearts to turn anyone away and we don’t do it lightly. We always want to give kids a chance but there are certain levels of behavior That would jeopardize the safety of other youth in the shelter that we are entrusted to care for. If we were to accept a youth we couldn’t appropriately care for, we’d be putting that youth at risk as well.
And these problems are bringing to light the gaps in our mental health programs for youth.There are some great resources out there but there aren’t enough. It seems as though the “great resignation” is affecting many group homes and residential programs too and they are not able to serve as many kids as they once did because of staffing issues. I can’t speak for those programs but we get a lot of referrals and when programs close or discharge kids, we get the referrals for those youth who are all of a sudden without placement. And this is not an isolated issue to Guilford county. We work with counties across the state referring kids in foster care. It’s a widespread problem in our state. We need a solution for these kids and we need it quickly.