CHARLOTTE, NC - Critics say North Carolina's most vulnerable children are at risk of falling through the cracks in the state foster care system.
"I've been in nine foster homes in nine years," said foster youth and advocate Angelica Brice.
Brice has spent nearly half of her life in foster care.
"I’ve had a couple who told me flat out, 'I'm doing it for the money,'" she said. "There was mental abuse for me, and verbal abuse, and I will never forget that."
Brice said there were times when she needed help and her social workers were too busy.
"Damage is done because they don’t come when you need them sometimes," said Brice.
Now, Brice is a 19-year-old biology major at Western Carolina University living with a supportive foster family. She said she is trying to make the foster care system safer for thousands of other kids through the advocacy organization called Strong Able Youth Speaking Out (SAYSO).
Damonique Levy is also a SAYSO advocate.
"Honestly, I don’t think the parents are held accountable," said Levy. "I don't think there is an adequate amount of checks and balances."
We found their concerns validated by the latest U.S. Health and Human Services report on North Carolina. It shows the turnover rate for social workers is rising at an alarming rate. Between 2013 and 2014, it jumped from 23 to 28 percent. For the ones who stay, cases pile up.
"A lot of social workers are saying, ‘Oh, I have other children, my caseload is busy,'" said Brice.
The report also found North Carolina Department of Social Services Department lacks consistency. Training, standards, and resources are different in each county.
"They are in a system that is failing," State Senator Tamara Barringer told Eyewitness News.
Barringer represents Wake County. She spent ten years as a foster mother and said change is long overdue.
"We had children in our home that been locked in closets, trapped in car seats, not fed, brutalized. Babies who'd been sexually abused, things that are unspeakable. Things I wish I'd never seen but now that I have seen them, I can't be quiet," said Senator Barringer.
When asked if the system needs a full overhaul, Barringer said, "Absolutely, there are some counties that do better than others, but there are no counties that are doing it right completely."
Senator Barringer said her experiences helped her convince the legislature to pass the Family/Child Protection and Accountability act in 2017.
Now, every three weeks Senator Barringer meets with a group of lawmakers and stakeholders from county DSS departments.
The group is bringing in a third party to restructure North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services.
The state spends $5 billion on DHHS services, but every county operates differently. The working group is creating higher and consistent standards for all counties and a regional system to give families and social workers more support and oversight.
"It's the human thing to do. It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do," said Senator Barringer.
Brice and Levy hope the changes will keep more foster children in healthy homes and on the right path.
"The more you'll see 'Wow, look at her. She grew up in foster care, but look where she is now,'" said Brice.
The state’s working group hopes to have the proposed changes implemented by 2022. This week, the state released a survey to ask stakeholders for input.
Read more about the changes going into effect, including a program to teach foster kids how to drive HERE.
Department of Social Services info:
FAQ page from the Children's Home Society of NC:
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