• 9 Investigates: Adoptive families in dire situations

    By: Brittney Johnson

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Counties all across North Carolina are desperately recruiting foster families with the number of children who need safe homes rising. 

    Families trying to help kids, say they are the ones left without help. 

    One local family is pushing to make sure those who step up to help get the help they need. 

    [ALSO READ: 9 Investigates: Foster care in a 'state of crisis' in NC]

    Jason Childress said it has been eight years since he and his wife agreed to provide a temporary home for a baby born to a drug-addicted mother. Months later, when the child's mother still was not clean, they said the Department of Social Services asked if the couple would keep her permanently.

    "We figured we get her, we'll move out of the apartment, and go get us another house, that way she'll have a yard to run around in, cats, dogs," Childress said. 

    Childress said eight years later, they are still in the same apartment, trying to understand why they are not getting the benefits to take care of her that they claim the social worker promised. 

    "The first time she came to our house and we explained, financially, we can't afford it," Childress said. "She told us about certain things out there, WIC, then later on food stamps, medicaid." 

    Childress said he thought they were on the path to getting support. The county paid for an attorney to help them get permanent custody. But, they said once they signed the custody agreement, they learned the case was closed. 

    "We were not informed at all that if we signed the custody papers and took full custody that social services was not going to be there and was not going to help," Childress said. 

    [ALSO READ: Critics say North Carolina's foster care system fails kids - what's being done about it]

    He said without the help they were counting on, they couldn't afford daycare or consistent therapy for their daughter. 

    Channel 9 took Childress' concerns to DSS and learned Childress and wife did not fully understand what they were signing up for. 

    But, they are not alone. 

    Cabarrus County Child Welfare Program Administrator Cheryl Harris said she could not speak specifically about the Childress case, but she said the agency is discussing additional resources to help families understand what benefits they will and will not receive. 

    "Once legal permanence is obtained, legally, we have to close the case and I don't think a lot of people are aware of that. They think we'll always be there. What we find, though, is people don't know what they don't know and I haven't discovered how you eliminate that problem yet," Harris said. 

    Eyewitness News Anchor Brittney Johnson started digging into the Childress case and learned they were never on the legal path to becoming foster parents. Instead, they had signed a custody agreement that meant they would take full responsibility for the child. 

    DSS said this should have been clear. Childress argued it was not. 


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    "If they would have explained that, we would have put full custody on hold so we could get the help with her. The lady said Section 8 Housing, that never happened, food stamps, never happened," Childress said. 

    Childress said to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else, he is pushing for more education for prospective foster and adoptive parents. 

    Officials said the number of children in foster care statewide continues to rise, now at more than 11,000. Some counties ask relatives or even friends to step in because there is such a shortage of homes. 

    Cabarrus County has 45 licensed homes, but 60 foster children. Gaston County also has 45 licensed homes, but 345 children. 

    Officials said when family or friends step up, there may not be as many financial resources to help. 

    "When you take on someone else's kid and someone says there is plenty of help out there available, you expect there to be a little help out there available. We have gotten zero," Childress said. 

    Childress said because of his daughter's needs, his wife had to stay home with her and within months, they filed bankruptcy. He said they have resorted to raising money online to give her the home they feel she deserves. 

    [ALSO READ: Growing families celebrated in Mecklenburg County on National Adoption Day]

    Most of the benefits for foster and adoptive families are handled at the state level, but counties are responsible for helping families navigate the process. 

    In recent years, Cabarrus County has created steps to help families determine if they can handle the financial responsibilities. 

    After Channel 9 reached out, they started planning how they could be more clear with families about the benefits they will receive and what they will not. 

    For more information, click the links below: 

    Children's Home Society of North Carolina

    North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

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