(The Center Square) – Relatives caring for children in state custody will soon get some financial relief from legislation approved by the General Assembly over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto May.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley was in Harnett County on Monday to kick off a new kinship care initiative that will provide monthly payments of $405 per child to family members who step up for kids in need.
The program stems from Senate Bill 20 that granted authorization for the department to provide the payments for kinship care providers of children in the state’s custody without requiring a foster care license.
Cooper vetoed SB20 during a “reproductive freedom” rally on May 13 over his objections to limits on abortion included in the bill. Lawmakers overrode Cooper three days later.
Officials at the health department contend the legislation will have a positive impact on children and the foster care system in a variety of ways, from promoting placement and better outcomes for those in the foster care system, to addressing a shortage of foster care homes in the state.
“We know children in foster care do best when placed with relatives because family connections provide a sense of belonging, preserve a child’s cultural identity, build their relationship to their community and children experience fewer behavioral problems,” Susan Osborne, deputy secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being, said in a statement. “Currently about 25% of children in foster care live with kinship providers, but the kinship payments and other initiatives we hope to significantly increase this option for children who cannot remain safely in their home.”
In addition to the payments to kinship providers that start in December, SB20 boosted payment rates for foster parents and adoption assistance, as well. Rates increased on July 1 from $514 to $702 per month for children up to age 5, from $654 to $742 per month for children between the ages of 6 and 12, and from $698 to $810 per month for children between the ages of 13 and 20.
There are more than 10,000 North Carolina children in foster care, and only about 5,400 foster homes licensed to care for children in need of a temporary, safe place to live. While more foster homes are needed, the shortage is particularly problematic for older youth and children with complex health and behavioral needs, according to the Health Department.
The shortage of foster homes has led to dozens of foster children staying in county offices, including some for weeks, or at local hotels with social workers, officials said this summer. The situation is due in part to a 23% decline in licensed foster homes in the state between 2021 and 2022, federal data shows.
The situation is further complicated by rising caseloads and high turnover rates for social workers, and struggles for foster parents finding child care and quality mental health services in the wake of the pandemic.
Officials hope the new payments for kinship providers will bring some relief to the system by encouraging more relatives to get involved by giving them the financial support they need to do so.
“I am very thankful that the state of North Carolina has decided to allow payments to unlicensed kinship providers,” Harnett County Social Services Director Paul Polinski said in a statement. “The service they provide to the children in our custody is unparalleled. It is so important for children in placement to be with family if at all possible. This funding is much needed for those providers.”