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Adoptions


Q:  Why would anyone trust a department who is monetarily rewarded for getting children in the system and having them adopted and not for reunifying them with their parents?  The DSS earns bonus money only for adopting more foster children than the previous year.  This clearly forces the system into corruptness and by no means encourages DSS to reunify any children.  Every child the DSS reunifies is money lost to the department.  How in the world is this in the best interest of the children?

A:  DSS has no authority to place any child for adoption without a court order, unless the parent(s) voluntarily relinquish their parental rights.
 
The average yearly cost of care for a child in foster care in the County's custody is $10,000. The County DSS estimates it will serve 1,500 children in its custody for the year. It costs the County nearly $10 million annually to care for approximately 1,300 children in DSS custody.  Therefore, there is no financial incentive to have children in custody of the County.

The state sets a yearly adoption goal for each County based upon the average number of completed adoptions for the most recent three years. If a County surpasses its state designated goal, and is able to provide adoptive homes for more of the children in its custody who are cleared for adoption, the federal government provides the County incentive money. The amount is $9,000 for each child adopted beyond the designated goal, and it is  $10,000 for adolescents and for each child in a sibling group. That money must be used strictly for adoptive services, such as recruitment of families.  In FY02, the County received $387,000 in federal adoption incentives.  These funds can only be used for adoptive services and serve no purpose to the County other than strengthening the efforts to find adoptive homes for children that are free for adoption. 

Q:  Shouldn't the County Commission conduct quarterly reviews of the DSS to determine that the percentages of adoptions to children reunified to children that shouldn't have been taken in the first place, actually make sense?  If the DSS knew that their numbers were under regular review the tendency to corrupt behavior would certainly be reduced.  I heard on the radio that the percentage of children of whom it was determined should never have been removed from the home was actually more than the percentage of children reunified with their parents.  I believe it was around 25% to 11%.  This would indicate that children who should never have been removed from the home were permanently taken from their parents and actually adopted.  I wish I could quote the name of the group that stated this information, but I can't.  I do know that there has been more than one group speak out about the abuses of DSS all over the country due to the federal regulations.  You may choose to ignore this information, but it is reliable and should at least be looked into.

These questions seem to relate to "oversight" of the Department of Social Services and the possible impact of that upon the decision making process as it relates to bringing children into custody.  Therefore, the answer to these questions will focus on oversight.  Please see the oversight section of these questions and answers for additional information.

First, there is no statistic on children who shouldn't have been removed from the home.  Such a statistic would be very subjective and open to various interpretations and therefore have little real meaning.  It's not clear from the question whether the information provided on the radio was valid and/or whether it even pertained to Mecklenburg County. 

Since no such statistic exists and would not be useful, there is no meaningful way to make comparisons such as is suggested in this question.  There are statistics on the percentage of children reunified with their family once they've been placed in the custody of DSS by the courts. 

From July 1996 to the present, the reunification rate for Mecklenburg County is 25%.  This is lower than the state average of 36% but consistent with the only other county in North Carolina, Wake County, that is close to the size of Mecklenburg.  Wake County's has a 27% reunification rate during this same time.  Please note that the judge in each case determines whether reunification occurs. 

Regarding oversight, a comprehensive system of checks and balances exists within the Department of Social Services.  In fact, child protective services (CPS) is one of the most regulated and reviewed services provided by local government. 

Social worker/supervisor "pairings" are a regular way of doing business.  In most instances, families receive services from multiple human service agencies in the community.  These agencies provide input and make recommendations regarding the progress a family member or unit is making.  In cases in which children are brought into custody, the Judicial System becomes a decision-maker in the process.  Children and their parents are represented by separate attorneys.  Children are provided a Guardian Ad Litem who makes best interest recommendations to the court.  Judges make independent decisions after hearing recommendations from each party.  The Department of Social Services works within a larger sphere of service providers that constantly is aware of the workings of the child protection process.

The State Department of Health and Human Services is another source of oversight.  Reports are made monthly to the State regarding the children that are being served and the kind of services that are provided.  The State maintains a Central Registry that contains a variety of data relative to the operations of the local Department.  The State performs Biennial Reviews to monitor the operations of the local Department.  This State organization is not a function of the local Department.  This is not an instance of an organization monitoring itself.  The State Department is a separate entity. 

In recent years, the State Biennial Reviews have taken on a form consistent with the Federal Reviews that have been implemented in accordance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  Federal Review teams are auditing all fifty states.  States that have been audited are required to develop a Performance Improvement Plan to address the challenging goals.  In North Carolina that plan is utilizing a tool of Quarterly State Reviews.  These audits and reviews are independent of the local Department, and are conducted by professionals who know and understand "good social work practice" and the law. 

Contrary to allegations that have been made about the Mecklenburg DSS regarding the handling of the Stratton case, the N.C. Attorney General's Office review of the facts resulted in a determination that there is no evidence to suggest corruption or warrant an investigation of criminal activity.  The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services also conducted a review of Mecklenburg's handling of the Stratton case and concluded that all policy, procedures and law were followed in the handling of this case.

It would be extremely difficult for meaningful oversight and review of cases to be conducted by individuals or a body that are not familiar with the requirements of social work practice and child protection.  Social workers receive ongoing training as laws, policy and regulations change.  This is not a system that can be monitored by the same kind of quality control that might be employed by business enterprises.  This is a system that deals with the human condition and risk of harm to children, and must be looked at and reviewed in that context.  A multitude of checks and balances prevent children from being taken into custody who do not need to be.

State rules for child placement



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