New legislation will improve North Carolina’s child welfare systemOverview of the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act
Governor Roy Cooper signed House Bill 630 into legislation (S.L. 2017-41) on June 21, 2017, strengthening North Carolina’s social service system.
Known as Rylan’s Law, the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act will serve as the foundation for changes in how the North Carolina Division of Social Services (NC DSS) and the 100 county department of social services offices serve children and families. The major components of the law are highlighted below.
Future editions of Fostering Perspectives will provide updates on changes and achievements linked to this significant law.
Child Welfare Reform
The bill directs a third-party organization to evaluate, then develop a new vision and strategic direction for social services. The plan will address leadership and governance at the state and regional levels, improving outcomes for children and families throughout social services.
NC DSS will solicit proposals in fall 2017 before selecting a third-party organization to lead the evaluation. The organization will submit their preliminary child welfare reform plan to the General Assembly no later than Oct. 1, 2018.
House Bill 630 also provides for the creation of a Child Well-Being Transformation Council by July 1, 2018. The council will seek to enhance coordination, collaboration, and communication among the state’s child-serving agencies. These improvements are aimed at reducing silos across social services, health care, education, juvenile justice, and other systems.
The law supports changing how NC DSS supervises all 100 North Carolina counties. Today, approximately 125 NC DSS employees are focused on the child welfare system. Some specialize in training, policy, interstate adoption, and prevention and adoption services. Others focus on improving service delivery through quality assurance, fiscal and program monitoring, technical assistance, and data analysis. While a portion of these state employees cover specific regions, not all do. By March 1, 2020 the law will create regional NC DSS offices that include regional supervision of counties through the development of a Working Group that reports directly to the General Assembly.
In addition to the regional state offices, there is an option for counties to merge social services programs or departments. With 100 independently-operating counties, some with more than 800 children in foster care and others less than five, the new legislation gives counties two methods of regionalization to help improve efficiency and save on costs effective March 1, 2019. The law allows counties to regionalize individual service components, such as Medicaid eligibility or LINKS, or consolidate their offices into one entity to serve families more efficiently. No matter how regionalization is used to improve efficiency, there will be a local presence providing services in every county.
Two levels of increased accountability are outlined in the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act. The first is the development of a Social Services System Transparency and Wellness Dashboard. The dashboard will collect information about child welfare services, adult protective services, guardianship, public assistance, and child support enforcement. It will also likely include items featured on the Management Assistance website (https://ssw.unc.edu/ma/), but be strengthened by other child welfare reform efforts.
The new law also requires the development of a more structured process of oversight between NC DSS and all 100 counties. Today, there is a state-supervised, county-administered system governed by general statutes. The new legislation requires NC DSS to enter formal written agreements with each county and encourages county commissioners to be involved in the process. The agreements will outline what happens if a county is deemed out of compliance.
Other Key Provisions
Driver License Pilot: House Bill 630 requires NC DSS to tackle the funding barriers faced by emerging adults as they try to obtain a driver license. LINKS funding is the primary mechanism that helps with this, but the new law allocates $75,000 in state fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 to pilot a program that would reimburse caregivers/youth for costs associated with obtaining driver licenses if LINKS funding is not available.
IAFT Licensing Pilot: House Bill 630 requires NC DSS and the state- and Medicaid-funded Local Management Entities/Managed Care Organizations that provide mental health, intellectual and developmental disability, and substance use services to explore employment waivers for families licensed as Intensive Alternative Family Treatment (IAFT) homes. This treatment is a higher level of care than Therapeutic Foster Care.
Rylan’s Law/CPS Observation: House Bill 630 requires county child protective services social workers to observe/supervise two visits between children in foster care and their parents before recommending to a court that the children and parents be reunified. These visits must be at least seven days apart and one hour in duration.
Foster Home Licensing Timeframes: House Bill 630 requires NC DSS to grant or deny new foster home licenses within three months of application. NC DSS currently processes licensing applications well within this timeframe.
Termination of Parental Right Appeals: Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, appeals of orders granting or denying a termination of parental rights are appealed directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court (and will no longer be heard before the court of appeals).
Orders Eliminating Reunification as a Permanent Plan. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, a parent who intends to appeal an order that eliminates reunification as a permanent plan must preserve the right to appeal in writing within 30 days of when the order is entered and served. If a termination of parental rights action has not been filed within 65 days of the order eliminating reunification, the parent may then appeal that order to the court of appeals. If a termination of parental rights action is filed within the 65-day time period, and if the termination of parental rights is granted, the parent may appeal both the order eliminating reunification and the termination of parental rights order directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
To learn more about the Family and Child Protection and Accountability Act, go to https://ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/SessionLaws/HTML/2017-2018/SL2017-41.html
North Carolina’s New Foster Care 18 to 21 Program
In another important step, the North Carolina General Assembly has extended foster care from 18 to 21 years of age. Through a new program called “Foster Care 18 to 21,” all youth in foster care in North Carolina are now entitled to continued placement until age 21 if they so choose, as long as at least one of the following are true of the young person:
- Completing secondary education (i.e., high school) or a program leading to an equivalent credential;
- Enrolled in an institution that provides postsecondary or vocational education;
- Participating in a program or activity designed to promote employment or remove barriers to employment;
- Employed for at least 80 hours per month; or
- Is incapable of meeting the educational or employment requirements due to a medical condition or disability.
Note: This article was updated on Nov. 9, 2017 to correct the description of changes related to Termination of Parental Right Appeals and to add a description of changes to Orders Eliminating Reunification as a Permanent Plan.