By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — In North Carolina, 11,000 children who were removed from their families mainly because of abuse or neglect are living in foster care.
But while three in four of those children eventually will return to their families, one in four eventually will be adopted but will remain in foster care for extended periods because they may be older or face other hurdles in finding adoptive parents.
“Foster care is temporary only,” says Kristin Stout, community outreach coordinator for the NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network.
The network, a program of the state Division of Social Services in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that was formed in 1999, serves as a one-stop exchange that provides information, referrals and follow-up for prospective foster and adoptive families, social workers and public and private adoption agencies.
Anyone in the United States can contact the exchange for information about children whose photos and profiles are posted on its website at adoptnckids.org, or about the process involved in foster care and adoption.
NC Kids itself does not place children but refers prospective foster and adoptive families to adoption agencies or county departments of social services.
The agencies, in turn, assess each family, conducting interviews and performing reference checks, criminal-background checks and health-and-wellness checks.
The agencies also provide each prospective family with 30 hours of training about the needs of children who have been neglected or subjected to emotional or physical abuse.
That process is free for families that work with their local department of social services or with any of five adoption agencies that contract with the state to participate in NC Kids.
Once the assessments and training are completed, families can apply for licenses to become foster parents, and then are matched with children.
A critical choice a family must make, Stout says, is whether it wants to be a foster family that later will adopt children, or just adopt children outright.
Because the need for foster families far exceeds the need for adoptive families, she says, some local departments of social services will work only with families willing to provide foster care, and will refer to private agencies any families interested only in adoption.
Of the 11,000 children in the state now in foster care, roughly 850 are legally ready for adoption because a social worker has concluded it is not safe for the child to return to his or her family, she says.
In addition to serving as a clearinghouse, NC Kids also works to raise awareness about the need for foster care and adoption.
In November, during Adoption Awareness Month, for example, Coldwell Banker sponsored at its offices in Burlington, Greensboro, High Point and Lexington “Heart Gallery” exhibits featuring photos of foster children and information about foster care.
Coldwell Banker also plans to host a permanent exhibit at its Greensboro office, on Westover Terrace, similar to permanent exhibits hosted by the YWCA in High Point and Goin’ Postal Office in Clemmons.
NC Kids always is on the lookout for partners, Stout says.
Sam’s Club and Costco, for example, made contributions to provide gifts for children who agreed to have their photos taken for the Heart Gallery exhibits.
And seven minor-league baseball teams, including the Greensboro Grasshoppers and Winston-Salem Warthogs, offered foster-care nights in May during Foster Care Awareness Month.
The goal for NC Kids, Stout says, is to develop a permanent plan for every child within a year of the time they are taken into state custody.
“We know they’ll be able to return home,” she says, “or will be moving toward adoptions.”