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Foster home shortage a challenge for WNC counties

fr fosterneededDonna Lupton, director of social work in Haywood County, admits that fostering a child or teen isn’t for everyone.

Even if someone decides they want to try it, there is an extensive process that must be completed. The process is designed to weed out people who may want to do it for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, the shortage of foster homes makes her social workers’ jobs more difficult than they would be otherwise.


Shortage of foster homes

Counties in Western North Carolina have a shortage of foster care homes. On average, Haywood County has about 100 children in need of foster care in the system at any given time, but there are only 40 certified foster homes available to them. Only five of those are certified through DSS, while the others are certified through private agencies. 

“Thirty-five of those homes are private — they are not under our control,” Lupton said. “We have to go through those private agencies to place kids there.” 

Swain County has three licensed foster care homes and 50 children in the system this year. Macon County has 20 foster homes and 47 children in the system, while Jackson County has 14 foster homes and 53 foster children. 

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While the goal is to keep children within an hour’s drive from their birth parents, that isn’t always possible given the shortage of foster homes. A majority of children removed from their home in Haywood County have to be placed in foster homes located hours away from the family. In addition to the trauma a child experiences when being removed from their home, they also have the added stress of being far away from all their family, friends and school. 

Having foster children spread throughout the state also makes it difficult for their social workers to keep a watchful eye on them. 

“Our foster care workers are on the road three to four days a week traveling to visit our children because we have to do home visits once a month,” Lupton said. 


Recruiting efforts

Haywood County DSS is in the midst of actively recruiting new foster parents to keep more foster care children in the county. While other counties are also trying to recruit, it’s hard for foster care social workers to devote more time into recruiting and training classes when they are already overextended trying to meet the needs of all the foster care children. 

Lupton said Haywood DSS got out of the licensing process for a while because the department didn’t have enough manpower to devote to it. With only nine foster care social workers to oversee 100 foster care cases, licensing new foster homes just wasn’t feasible. 

“We couldn’t do it the way we wanted to, but it was costing us more to place children in private (licensed) homes,” Lupton said. “So once we got the number of cases down to a manageable number, we decided to begin to recruit and train families that can be available just for us.”

Rachel Young is an adoptions and licensing social worker coordinator with Haywood DSS. Her position was created in March with the specific goal of increasing the number of foster care homes in the county. She conducts the 30-hour training classes for potential foster parents twice a year. Her goal was to increase the number of DSS certified foster homes from five to 10 by next year, but based on the number of people signed up for the training, Haywood could have as many as 20 certified homes. 

Swain County DSS Director Sheila Sutton said Swain is not actively recruiting new foster parents right now because of a limited number of social workers and a major transition the department is going through with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The county has always handled foster care cases on the Qualla Boundary, but the tribe decided several years ago to create its own Department of Social Services that would also include foster child services. 

Until that transition is complete, Sutton said it would be hard to determine how many children will still be in the care of Swain DSS. Right now the department has its hands full with 57 foster care children and only four foster care social workers. If many of the foster care children living on the boundary are transferred to the care of Tribal Family Safety Services in the near future, Swain County DSS may be able to focus on better recruitment efforts. 

“Right now we’re just trying to support the tribe in any way we can,” Sutton said. 

Dallas Pettigrove, director of Tribal Family Safety Services, said the agency is currently working to license 40 homes just for the Qualla Boundary. 

Even though counties may not be actively recruiting, anyone wanting to become foster parents should contact the local DSS office to find out when they can begin the training classes. Haywood County will begin a training class in the spring that is held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. each Tuesday for 10 weeks. 

“If we want to keep our foster home base we have to keep recruiting because a foster family’s situation may change — they could have their own kids or could adopt kids from the system and are unable to take in anymore,” Young said. 



How to become a foster parent

There are several private and public agencies in Western North Carolina that provide training and licensing to become foster parents. 

• Haywood County DSS – 828.452.6620

• Swain County DSS – 828.488.6921

• Macon County DSS – 828.349.2124

• Jackson County DSS – 828.586.5546

• Children’s Hope Alliance – 704.872.4157

• Baptist Children’s Home – 336.474.1200 

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