North Carolina has made little progress during Gov. Cooper’s administration in helping foster care children find safe and lasting homes. Over 12,000 children now swell the ranks of “children in care” in this state.
Perhaps the state’s social-service agencies have better intentions than their track record shows. But the reality is that many children in North Carolina languish for years in foster care, waiting and waiting for the state to find a parent or relative with the capacity to care for them.
A chorus of voices around the state are insisting on quicker permanency for children in foster care. House Bill 647, now before the N.C. Senate, would free a child for a permanent placement within 12 months of entering care. The state would have 30 days to find and notify relatives after a child is placed in care. And foster care parents, who currently have no standing in court, would become non-relative kin after the child has been in their care for nine months. In short, children would be eligible for adoption before they were irreparably damaged by the system itself.
Picture this scene from stories gathered around the state by the new non-profit advocacy group, Foster Lives Matter. A child is born to a mother with a history of maltreatment and neglect. He is placed with a family who is told there’s a strong possibility they could adopt him. Months turn into years. These people are the only family this child has known. They would gladly welcome him.
Occasionally this child has supervised visits with someone called his mother, who is a stranger to him. Two years into living with the foster family he knows as “family,” his mother makes a bit of progress. The state’s clock starts again. Termination of parental rights is postponed yet again.
The state’s bias toward reuniting with family often defies reason. A relative placement must be found, or a parent coaxed into parenting. At the tender age of three or four, this child is literally torn from arms of the people he knows as family, and “reunited” with a parent or relative, often with no observable track record of the capacity or intent to care for a child.
It’s not like we don’t know about the trauma children suffer when attachment bonds are broken. It’s well documented. Depression, poor school performance, increased aggression — if we wanted to design a foster-care-to-prison pipeline, the revolving door of multiple placements and broken attachment bonds in young children would be the sure path.
North Carolina’s lack-of-permanency problem has only grown worse with the opioid epidemic. It can take as much as five years to break free of a heroin addiction. Children don’t have that kind of time. Recovery services are available, and North Carolina continues to appropriate more funds to support those. But as one foster care mother who had fostered over 20 children said to me, “You know in about six months if a parent is serious about breaking free of addiction.”
In North Carolina, currently, a mother can take drugs throughout her pregnancy and not be charged with abuse or neglect. Nothing legally prevents her from leaving the hospital with the baby. No court appearance required. No legal repercussions or monitoring by a state agency. The No. 1 cause of infant mortality in North Carolina before the age of one is suffocating your baby because you are too stoned to realize you rolled over on him. No child should be subjected to a parent with an active addiction.
Recent legislation in North Carolina has focused on protecting pre-born babies and providing school choice for children. That’s well and good. Might our focused concern also extend to the 12,000 children in North Carolina who are caught in the revolving door of foster care? Every child deserves to unpack his little suitcase so he can grow up in a lasting family who welcomes him around their table.