The 2015 Family Impact Seminar, Helping Kids in Foster Care Succeed: Strategies for N.C. to Strengthen Families and Save Money, was convened on May 6 at the N.C. General Assembly’s Legislative Auditorium. The seminar highlighted cost-effective policy and program strategies to ensure that children and families in foster care are healthy, educated, and self-sufficient.
Senator Tamara Barringer opened the seminar by highlighting the importance of improving the well-being of youth in foster care. Seminar keynote speaker Dr. Mark Testa of the UNC School of Social Work, highlighted the “grand challenges” of child welfare and called on policymakers to address them through a bipartisan process of evidence-based policymaking. A candid conversation between Nancy Carter, a longtime advocate for youth aging out of foster care, and Marcella Middleton, who aged out of the N.C. foster care system, gave attendees insight into the challenges children and youth deal with in foster care and their experiences when they leave the system to face life on their own. Finally, a panel discussion on the social-emotional health of children in foster care highlighted the research on why such a focus is critical, featured the investment approaches that The Duke Endowment is taking in this area, then focused on the evidence-based solutions that North Carolina is embracing, specifically Project Broadcast and Partnering For Excellence. The panel consisted of Susan Foosness of Public Consulting Group, Rhett Mabry of The Duke Endowment, Kevin Kelley from the N.C. Division of Social Services Child Welfare Section, and Jenny Cooper of the Partnering For Excellence initiative.
Please see the Capitol View article below for a more detailed description of the event.
By Patrick Gannon of the Capitol View, May 11, 2015
RALEIGH – In 2014, more than 14,800 children spent time in foster homes in North Carolina, with nearly 10,000 remaining in care at the end of the year.
Not too many years ago, 23-year-old Marcella Middleton was one of them. From age 2, she spent much of her childhood in foster homes – at least 16 placements.
She told her story during a foster care seminar at the Legislative Building in Raleigh May 6. Her testimony about problems faced by foster kids – most of whom have suffered abuse or neglect and need the love and support of adults – was as eloquent and powerful as any speech heard on the House or Senate floors this year.
A recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Middleton is a rare success story from the foster care world. In general, an expert at the seminar said, outcomes for young people transitioning from foster care are “deplorable.”
Middleton said she never considered any of her foster families her family, but rather “just people I lived with.” At one home, she ate jail food because the lady worked at a jail. At another, she got in trouble for saying the word “liar.”
She went through a phase when she didn’t speak. “Why talk? Why even make friends?” she said. “Why even do anything? I’m going to move. I’m not going to see these people ever again. I’m going to meet new people, and then I’m going to meet new people, … then I’m going to meet more new people.”
Middleton also told a story about how she and her sister were devastated when denied the opportunity to go to Disney World as foster kids, even though the mother of a friend took a second job to pay for it.
A bill that passed the state Senate unanimously this session and awaits action by the House would address situations such as that other barriers faced by foster kids and families, said Sen. Tamara Barringer, the bill’s sponsor and a former foster parent. Senate Bill 423 would establish a “prudent parenting standard,” giving foster parents more say in whether children under their care can participate in extracurricular and social activities, such as sleepovers, without approval from the courts or social services agencies.
“As long as you’re acting as a prudent parent, you’re not going to be held liable if a child falls out of a tree or gets hurt on the football field or whatever,” Barringer said.
The bill also removes barriers to foster teenagers getting driver’s licenses by allowing them to purchase car insurance with consent of the courts. Right now, Barringer said, laws in many ways require foster kids to “sit on the sidelines of life.”
“They don’t get to learn to drive,” she said. “They don’t get to go to senior prom. My daughter’s in Washington now with her eighth grade class. They don’t get to do that because there’s nobody to sign the permission slip.” The bill also would allow foster parents to purchase insurance, which Barringer said would remove an obstacle to potential parents worried about liability if anything goes wrong.
Today, Middleton works at the Center for Family & Community Engagement at N.C. State University, where she trains social workers and foster parents to help them become better at working with foster children. She also is an aspiring musician with her own YouTube channel, where she explores issues of music, fashion, beauty and – of course – foster care.
She supports the Senate bill because it would allow foster kids to “be normal, be young people, because they’re supposed to be.”