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Foster care system faces parent shortage amid licensing backup

After two years, Brunswick County woman still waiting to foster child
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 4:51 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - From the time you start to the time you finish, becoming a foster parent should take about five months but one woman says she has waited nearly two years for her license and still isn’t getting anywhere.

“I feel like I’d make a good mother and my husband, a good father,” said Melissa Childs. “I feel like I could be there for some of these children. I could be a good role model, a good support system for some of these kids.”

The Childs started going through the process of becoming foster parents near the end of 2020. Despite following all the steps and making all the changes required in their home, they’re still without a license.

Brunswick County Social Services says there are a number of roadblocks when it comes to fostering right now. There is a shortage of social workers across the state with several counties in southeastern North Carolina trying to fill positions in their social services departments. Brunswick County has six vacancies. Pender and Bladen Counties both have two and Columbus County has one open position. New Hanover County says it filled its last position just last week.

In Brunswick County, the sudden retirement of a key member of the social services department only stretched staff thinner. To add to that problem, there has been an influx of foster kids in local systems over the past two years. Unfortunately, counties haven’t seen that same increase in families willing to foster those children.

Brunswick County has about 160 kids in the system right now but only 23 licensed families. New Hanover County has 290 kids and only 80 families. Bladen County has 49 kids compared to only 12 families while Pender County has 43 children and 11 families. Perhaps in the worst shape of all, Columbus County has 131 children in its foster system but only six families licensed through its social services department.

When that happens, it forces the county to place kids that can’t stay in one of their homes in a home licensed through a private company.

Adding to the number of homes licensed through the county is the ideal solution. Right now in Brunswick County, that’s not possible since classes to become a foster parent have been put on hold until the county can catch up.

Melissa Childs says she and her husband have done everything they were asked in regards to fostering. That includes a background check, getting a number of certifications and even installing a gate to the front of their home. Childs went so far as to set up a bedroom that’s been waiting for a child to move in. Still, her home sits in silence as she waits.

“We give it a few weeks and we’ll try again calling up there,” said Childs. “My husband’s emailed them before and [they’d say] they’d be giving us a call — but I don’t get a call.”

Brunswick County filled the position to handle licensing a couple of months ago. Lytch says social worker Matthew Ames is eager to get the ball rolling for all 15 families stuck in this situation and has spent the first few months of his employment reaching out to see what their next steps should be.

Childs says she’s still waiting to hear from Ames. Despite two years of hearing nothing, she’s still hopeful.

“I haven’t given up on the idea that we could still do this. I still want to possibly have a child in this home.”

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