North Carolina’s child welfare program received low marks from federal officials and many social services directors disagree with the results. But Sampson County officials said they’ll continue to do their best to help children and families, as always.
“When you’re working with all the issues that are going on with families and individual children, it can be a struggle to keep your staffing, training and resources where they need to be,” said Sarah Bradshaw, social services director for Sampson County. “It’s a difficult program area to work, but we think we do a good job in our child welfare services, despite our challenges.”
According to Associated Press reports, the federal Children’s Bureau disclosed findings from a recent review of North Carolina’s maltreatment investigations, foster care and adoption programs. Each state is reviewed every seven to 10 years. Of the 14 performance factors evaluated, North Carolina failed to reach standards the federal government set as being successful in all of them. The state was in Successful “substantial conformity” with six out of 14 outcomes.
Many social workers in the state oppose the results, which are based in part on interview an examinations of random cases. The findings show the strengths and weaknesses of a service, which relies on case workers, courts and outside service providers.
“As painful as it might be, there’s nothing new or shocking in the report in terms of something that we didn’t know,” said Sherry Bradsher, deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services. “We know that there’s always room for improvement.”
Bradshaw and Lynn Fields, social work program manager, echoed the opinions of the state leaders.
“It’s not completely surprising,” Bradshaw said about the on and off years of unsatisfactory reports. “Everyone needs to understand that the federal tool developed constantly changes.”
The bar is raised for the social workers, but departments across the state have to face the ongoing challenges of working with families and situations.
According to a separate review by the child and family services, the state only met or exceeded national standards in one of seven data indicators — that being the percentage of children where maltreatment allegations have recurred within six months when allegations began. Other calculations could not be made becuase computer systems make it difficult to track children moving.
About 10,000 children in North Carolina’s are in the welfare system on a single day. Currently, Sampson County has more than 120 in their legal custody. Individual counties operate social services offices and are subject to state and federal rules. County governments, state and federal governments share more than $570 million in expenses to operate the child welfare system.
In Sampson County, close to 70 percent of child welfare services are not funded locally. Expenses are reimbursed anywhere from 67 percent to 70 percent. The remaining comes from county contributions.
“From time to time, there’s some extra funding, either federal or state, that’s allocated,” Bradshaw said.
She added that three pots of extra funding were dispersed to counties, but Sampson County was not one of the, because criteria was not met.
“It’s not a negative thing, so much as a positive thing,” Bradshaw said. “They felt that we had proper staffing for the number of cases that we had. They gave that funding to counties that demonstrated through their totals and outcomes that needed extra help.”
But prior to the additional funding submitted to other counties, Sampson County received support locally to add positions.
“That’s one thing that helped our numbers when the state looked at staffing numbers,” she said about the ratio to case load number. We were healthy during the time when they started assessing for additional funding.”
In 57 percent of the cases, children were safely maintained in their homes, if possible and appropriate. Children also received services to meet educational needs in 90 percent of cases. Positive outcomes are required at least 95 percent of the time to be in “substantial conformity.”
To address concerns in the report, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services submitted a list of initiatives conducted over completed over a couple of years. According to reports, the General Assembly and counties had funding to hire 123 service workers with goals to reduce caseloads to 10 families per worker. Also, in-home services grew by $4.5 million. A statewide computer system will improve the tracking of children in the system.
North Carolina is now required to produce a plan in a few months for improvements. If goals are not met within three years, the state may face a monetary penalty. The state was penalized $1.2 million after failing to meet one goals after a 2007 report.
Sampson County was not one of the counties selected during the review taken from April 2015 to November 2015. It include a cross section of urban and rural county department. But local social workers are partaking in the improvement process by attending meetings and workshops related to the report. Bradshaw said the department will incorporate any of the guidance provided, with hopes of maintaining a good level of service.
“But we are looking into this report and receiving direction, training and guidance like the other counties are from the state,” Bradshaw said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.