CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina is in need of more families to step up and take care of foster children.
Channel 9 has been investigating the state’s foster care crisis and what’s being done about it for years.
As the state looks to recruit and retain more families, some of the parents who have opened their homes said they aren’t receiving enough financial support to fully cover the cost of fostering.
“You have to have a lot of love in your heart,” said longtime foster parent Yolanda Gorrell.
During her 23 years as a foster parent, Gorrell has welcomed 16 children into her home.
"They're all a part of my family," she said.
As a child, Gorrell spent time in foster care. Now, she spends a lot of time and money making her house feel like home for children joining her family.
“The child I got now never had a baby doll,” Gorrell said, giving Channel 9 a tour of the entertainment area and bedroom she set up to host foster children.
She said many of the children arrive at her home with very little, often carrying their belongings in a trash or grocery bag. She said she always makes sure to have toys, clothes and more on hand, but admits the cost of those items adds up.
“Shoes, field trips, pictures, property damage is the biggest,” she said, listing off the costs she incurs. “Everybody knows how much it costs to raise a child. Imagine taking one to two kids from foster care and trying to provide those things as well,” she said.
There is no federal minimum rate for foster parents to be paid.
Here’s a look at the rates set by the Legislature in North Carolina, according to the Department of Health and Human Services:
- $475.00 per child, per month for children from birth through five years of age.
- $581.00 per child, per month for children six through 12 years of age.
- $634.00 per child, per month for children at least 13 but less than 21 years of age.
Families can receive more based on a child's physical and mental health care needs.
Advocates at the national level said the funding is inadequate and point to research published in Children and Youth Services Review in 2018, which was conducted by several leading universities, including the University of Maryland and City University of New York.
It said the majority of states are not providing adequate funding. After looking at costs, including food, clothes and transportation, researchers determined minimum rates for foster children should be much higher.
They said rates should be closer to $749 for children up to 4 years old and $941 for children 14 to 18. The study also said North Carolina needs to raise its rates more than 45 percent across the board.
“I am frustrated. I’m disappointed with the financial aspect. We just need more support,” said Gorrell.
Another longtime foster parent, Susan Barber, agrees. She said while fostering can be challenging, it’s rewarding.
Barber showed Channel 9 scrapbooks filled with awards and photos from trips with her foster daughters over the past 14 years.
She said one child arrived with chronic health issues that forced her to spend weeks in the hospital and another teen was pregnant. Barber said she didn’t know about either situation until they arrived at her home.
“We have to pay out of pocket for some money that maybe wasn’t covered,” said Barber.
She said trips to the hospital, to therapy sessions and visitation with families can mean time off work and lost wages.
“So much is demanded (of) foster parents. The state puts so much on us. But then there is no support for them. We are not getting the support, the resources that we need for the children we take into our homes,” said Barber.
“It’s not fair to them,” said state Sen. Joyce Krawiec.
Krawiec is aware North Carolina hasn’t raised its rates in a decade but said the funding just isn’t available. She sponsored Senate Bill 636 last year to give foster parents two raises over the next two years. It would lead to a raise of $78 for kids up to 5 years olf; $146 for kids 6 to 12 years old; and $127 for youth 13 up to 20 years old.
The money was approved. But now it’s stuck in the budget stalemate.
“To see it all stop, it’s frustrating,” said Krawiec.
In the meantime, some county agencies can provide stipends to help with items like clothes and shoes. Local nonprofits like Foster Village are providing extra support, as well.
Foster Village accepts donations and partners with businesses to offer welcome bags and free activities, including support groups for families.
It's a big help for foster parents. Many are scared to ask about money due to the stigma.
“Because people look at it as you’re in it for the money,” said Barber. “I hadn’t said anything. I just do it because I want to be able to give back to that child, to let them know someone is willing to invest in you.”
Barber and Gorrell are speaking up now because they don't want financial burdens to stop others from opening their homes and hearts to children in need.
“It was worth everything. They’re all doing great,” said Gorrell.
Advocates and researchers said financial assistance doesn’t usually motivate parents to foster, but inadequate reimbursements can impact whether they continue.
To learn more about local efforts to help foster families, you can visit the following resources:
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, Nazareth Child and Family Connection is offering classes to offset the shortage.
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