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Number of children in foster care declining, DSS reports

By Shavonne Potts
spotts@salisburypost.com
There is a continued decrease in the number of children in the foster care system since the Department of Social Services began tracking in 1998, says Foster Care Supervisor Micah Ennis.
Ennis informed the social services board Tuesday at its meeting that over the years this population has continued to decline.
“That’s good news,” Ennis said.
It means that the foster care program is solving problems before children even enter the system. They are placing children with relatives or custodians and are coming up with solutions before there is a need to put these children in the system, Ennis explained following the meeting.
“We are really getting people to help us solve this issue,” she said.
Often the parents hold the answers to placing their children with a blood relative or someone in a kinship network who may not be a relative, but possibly a friend of the family who would look after a child until the parent and child can be reunited.
The ultimate goal is reunification, she told the board.
Ennis has been collecting data since July 1998. The data she submitted goes through September 2009.
In July 1998, there were 225 children in foster care and in July 2009 there were 161.
Other data collected shows there are now more males than females in the foster care system. There are 76 females and 86 males. There are also more white children than any other racial group. There are slightly more than 100 white children, nearly 60 black, less than 10 Hispanics and no American Indian or Asian.
The majority of children in foster care are placed with foster families or other relatives. A small number are in group homes, treatment facilities, training schools or with their biological parents.
There are 44 percent of children placed in foster homes, 26 percent with other relatives, 17 percent in group homes, 5 percent in treatment facilities, 7 percent with parents, 1 percent in training schools and runaways.
However, since the data was collected, there have been two children who have run away, Ennis said.
The length of time a child stays in foster care is a number the staff would like to see decrease.
The ideal outcome is to reunite families or find permanent placements.
“The law says we ought to have done something permanent for a child by a year. It’s encouraging that most of the children have been in care less than that, but we have 25 percent from one to less than two years,” Ennis said.
The majority of the children are in the system for less than six months. As of September, 30 percent of the children have been in the system for less than six months, followed by 25 percent for a year up to less than two years. Twenty-eight percent of the children are in the system for six months up to less than a year and 17 percent who stay more than two years.
In other business:
– The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) is a one-time cash payment to assist low-income families or individuals with their heating costs. This is a seasonal program.
People who need help paying heating costs can apply with the Department of Social Services Nov. 2-Nov. 13 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. each day, except Nov. 11 when the DSS office will be closed.
Households that are actively receiving Food Assistance benefits as of Sept. 30 and have a certification ending October or later are automatically evaluated for the program.
The state will send a notice to all Food Assistance households that are not eligible. Those families must go to the DSS office to apply. Elderly or disabled people should send someone to apply on their behalf or contact the DSS office. Anyone who does not receive a notice via mail, but wishes to apply, should apply at DSS during the two-week period.
Applicants should bring information about income, including check stubs, savings or checking accounts, date of birth, Social Security numbers of each person in the household.
The LIEAP checks will be issued in February 2010.
“We anticipate it to be a large number of people more so than in years past,” Pat Spears, economic services program administrator.
– Staff are planning the annual foster care Christmas party. Gifts have been bought with Rowan One Church, One Child donations.
The organizers are mapping out the menu, entertainment and gifts, which will be distributed by Santa.
For more information, contact the Department of Social Services at 704-216-8330.

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