The Orange County Department of Social Services is working to connect potential foster kids with relatives — meaning more of them can live with people they trust instead of strangers.
The number of foster care children in Orange County has been gradually declining over the past decade. In Feb. 2014, there were 92 children in the foster care system, down from 125 children in Feb. 2004.
The biggest decline can be seen in children ages 13 to 17. In Feb. 2014, there were 19 teenage foster care children in the system, down from 51 teenage children in Feb. 2004.
Duston Lowell, child welfare program manager for the Orange County Department of Social Services, said the decrease in foster care children could be related to the diligent efforts of DSS.
“We work hard to find a family member or someone who is significant in a child’s life which may allow us to create a plan for the child to live elsewhere without taking custody while we work extensively with the parent,” Lowell said.
“The parents would have to agree of course, but it does allow us and the family to sometimes avoid court intervention.”
Lowell said DSS is also making sure services for the family are set up quickly and are directed at the most concerning issues.
Lowell said their goal is to reduce risk for the child and eventually allow him or her to return safely home. He said there has been a downward trend with the number of children coming into foster care throughout the rest of North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean the need is gone entirely.
“Although the number of children coming into the foster care system has been gradually declining, the need for foster care is still great,” Lowell said.
There are about 70 foster care homes currently licensed, but they are not all actively taking children into their home.
To become licensed, potential foster parents must meet several requirements.
Track Trask , who is responsible for Orange County foster care licensing, said there is a diverse group of foster families that spend over 30 hours preparing for their role as a foster parent.
“As the PS, MAPP trainers, Lorraine Hines and I really get to know our foster families, and we are proud of them,” Trask said. “My greatest joy is to witness the positive changes that happen within families as a result of our services. I enjoy being part of the team that helps families reunite, stronger and healthier.”
After they become licensed, they must complete an additional 10 hours of training each year.
Many of the children coming into foster care have unique needs based on the circumstances they have been exposed to prior to leaving their home, such as emotional or physical abuse.
“Foster parents have to be very flexible and trained well for the many types of problems they may encounter when taking a foster child,” Lowell said.
Robbyn Davis-Ellison has been licensed with Orange County since October 2012. Robbyn and her partner Nicole Davis-Ellison have three children adopted from New Jersey, and they are currently fostering one child. They have fostered two other children.
“I would highly recommend becoming a foster parent,” Robbyn said. “It is definitely hard work, but it is also very rewarding, and DSS does an excellent job of training us.”
Robbyn and Nicole are in the process of adopting the child they are currently fostering.
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