A shortage of foster care providers in Pasquotank County is forcing the agency to place some children in faraway counties and even in neighboring states.
Pasquotank County Department of Social Services Director Kathy Ford mentioned the shortage of foster care homes during the Community Impact forum featuring local nonprofits last week at Museum of the Albemarle.
In an interview Friday Ford said the shortage has forced DSS to place children in need of foster care in homes as far away as Charlotte and Lumberton; Danville, Virginia; and South Carolina.
The long-distance placements are occurring because there are not enough foster care spots available in licensed foster care homes in Pasquotank, according to DSS officials.
Typically the county has about 20 children at any one time who are in need of foster care. As of Friday, the number was 21.
But currently there are only two foster care homes in Pasquotank County that are licensed by Pasquotank DSS.
Several factors have contributed to the dearth of foster care homes in the county. The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role. But the number of aging parents in the foster care system is also having an effect.
Families may reach a point where they decide they need to retire from the work. That recently happened in Pasquotank with a family whose home had been licensed for foster care for 15 years.
Some foster care families may be selective about the ages of children they’re willing to foster.
Kristi White, permanency planning and in-home social work supervisor for Pasquotank DSS, said some licensed families may specifically want to foster babies, for example, and that may limit their availability for other types of placements.
The children often come in waves by age, however, and sometimes there is a wave of teenagers who need foster families.
Sometimes foster care families move. A Coast Guard family, for example, became licensed to provide foster care but recently was reassigned to Alaska.
Also, licensing is not a quick process, White explained.
The required 30 hours of training is spread out over 10 weeks. And in addition to the actual class time, there is homework to do and paperwork to fill out.
There is also an extensive background check potential foster care families must successfully complete.
“There is a lot that it entails,” White said.
And just because a family completes the required training and passes a background check doesn’t mean they’ll become foster care parents. Of five families who completed the training last year, two “self-selected” not to proceed with being a foster family, White said.
White said one barrier to serving as a foster family that might not be immediately obvious is living on the water. A foster care family’s house has to have a yard that can be fenced in.
“That is a barrier that is local to us,” White said.
Foster parents must be at least 21 years old, have sufficient income to financially support themselves without relying on the foster care payment. The foster care payment is for expenses related to the children in foster care.
The home must pass a fire inspection, environmental and health regulations check, have a working telephone, and provide each child with their own personal bed.
In some instances the foster family will be interacting regularly with the child’s birth parents. What is known as “shared parenting” is intended to help with the timely reunification of families.
Although family reunification is not always possible, it is always the goal of the DSS foster care process, Ford said.
A social worker visits in the foster home on an ongoing basis. And if mental health services are needed there may be an in-home therapist working with the child at the home as well.
Pasquotank County DSS hopes to hold training for foster care licensure sometime this year. The idea is to get more people who are interested in providing foster care licensed to do so. White said the training may be offered in the fall.
Residents who are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent can contact White at (252) 338-2126, ext. 6153, or email her at Kristi.White@pcdss.com.