CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The number of children in foster care is rising every year, and so is the rate of foster kids who've been traumatized and need therapy.
Eyewitness News anchor Brittney Johnson learned that a local mother of two adopted children is taking the state to court and fighting for help with their care.
Katherine Noto said she thinks poor training could be hurting other families just like hers.
"They came with the clothes on their backs, but they were beautiful," Noto said of her children.
She always knew she would adopt children, but had no way of knowing just how much they would change her world. Noto said that when her foster children arrived in 2013, it was clear they'd been traumatized.
"Breaking things, throwing themselves down, very aggressive, very violent," Noto said.
Therapists diagnosed the youngest with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a mental health disorder that can lead to aggressive behavior.
Noto said they told her the child would need a licensed therapeutic foster parent, someone trained to handle his severe emotional and behavioral needs. Noto took it upon herself to get licensed so she could formally adopt the children.
"I didn't want to say no to adopting him because I knew no one else would,” Noto told Channel 9.
How many therapeutic foster children were in foster care each year for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017?
- SFY 2014-15: 1,874
- SFY 2015-16: 2,119
- SFY 2016-17: 2,386
Eyewitness News obtained state data showing the number of children in therapeutic foster homes jumped more than 25 percent from roughly 1,900 in 2014 to nearly 2,400 in 2016. The number of children being adopted each year, however, is dropping.
North Carolina has a Special Children Adoption Incentive Fund. The money is used as a financial incentive for adoptive parents to help cover the costs of caring for kids with severe health needs.
Noto said social workers told her she would receive the stipend, which is more than $1,200 each month. But when she went to sign the adoption papers, it wasn't there.
She thought it was a mistake and that she could work it out later, but the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services denied her, saying her son did not meet the requirement of being a therapeutic foster child for six months prior to the adoption.
He had the designation for just four months.
Noto said no one told her that if she'd delayed the adoption for two months, she would have received the stipend without a problem.
"What sane person wouldn't wait two more months?" Noto asked.
Noto's appeals to the county and state were denied, and now attorney Tiffany Bolling is taking on her case and asking a judge to reverse the decision.
"They really did mess up,” said Bolling. “We think they need to fix this. It's in everybody's best interest."
How many therapeutic foster care children were adopted each year for 2015, 2016, and 2017?
- *SFY 2014-15: 484
- *SFY 2015-16: 379
- *SFY 2016-17: 246
Bolling and Noto are arguing that poorly trained social workers failed to give accurate information.
"It's not their job to have to do all this research to have to know things. The people who do things on a daily basis should know," said Bolling.
Noto said she had to take a major pay cut to work from home and monitor her son. Without the monthly stipend, she's struggling to pay bills and can't afford the therapy to help her son heal.
"He carves up the banisters, he throws bricks at my car," said Noto. "I've been told more than once to terminate the rights to my son and put him into foster care."
If she did, a foster parent would receive the therapeutic stipend that she's fighting for. Noto receives adoption assistance which comes with Medicaid but she does not receive a stipend from the special incentive fund designed for families adopting children with extreme medical needs. Noto says the therapies her son needs are not covered.
"I can't possibly imagine giving up my child because the system is so broken," Noto said.
In an earlier 9 investigation, Channel 9 reported that state lawmakers are working to overhaul DSS.
Eyewitness News contacted Mecklenburg County DSS and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Officials from both offices would not comment.
Noto had a hearing before the judge on April 30 and is waiting for a decision on the judicial review.
She said she doesn't want her story to stop people from adopting children, but said prospective parents need to be aware that they need their own advocate to walk them through the process.
You can learn more about the push for consistent training and standards for social workers here.
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