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Giving Families a Voice in North Carolina’s Child Welfare System

Photo credit: Jessica Pankratz. Shared under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.

Children are among the most vulnerable members of society, and NC State University’s Kara Allen-Eckard is helping to lead an effort to better serve at-risk children and their families in North Carolina.

In December 2015, the federal government issued a Child and Family Services Review for North Carolina. The results were not good. The report evaluated 21 items related to child welfare practices and programs, and North Carolina fell short on 20 of them.

Kara Allen-Eckard

To address these shortcomings, North Carolina developed a program improvement plan, which was issued in January 2017. As part of its plan, the state has committed to “develop and implement a state level child welfare family leadership model.” And this is where Allen-Eckard comes in.

Allen-Eckard is a community developer for NC State’s Center for Family and Community Engagement, with years of experience working with families and social services providers to meet the needs of children and their families.

Earlier this year – with financial support from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services (DSS) – Allen-Eckard was chosen to co-chair a state working group with representatives from DSS, family advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, county social services departments and family members who have experience working with the child welfare system.

“We are trying to figure out exactly what a ‘state level child welfare family leadership model’ actually means,” Allen-Eckard says.

“Broadly speaking, our goal is to establish an advisory council that will give the families we serve a voice, so that they can provide feedback to the state child welfare system charged with ensuring child safety, well-being and permanency for children in North Carolina,” Allen-Eckard says. “Hopefully, that feedback will improve outcomes for children and families.”

Since January, Allen-Eckard has been working with state and national leaders in family advocacy and caregiver education to determine strategies to develop and sustain a North Carolina State Child Welfare Family Advisory Council. This work has included outreach and support for family and youth membership on the state planning workgroup. And while the work is in its early stages, the working group plans to have an advisory council in place by January 2019.

“To an outside observer, this may come across as more bureaucracy, but it’s not,” Allen-Eckard says. “This is a concerted effort to find ways to take better care of North Carolina’s children by listening to these families. Everyone at the table knows this is a move in the right direction. We just need to find the right way to get there.”

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  1. Is D.S.S suppose to put you down or call you names, or go around and tell people that just because tha worker don’t like you that she would make sure that we wouldn’t get our kids back? My mom raised my sister and I by herself we didn’t have our dad around. But she always told us that you treat people that way you want to be treated.

  2. I agree with you in Caldwell County and other county’s D.S.S. only cares about how many family’s and homes that they can destroy. They harassed us for three years then when we went to visit with my mom in Tarboro N.C. they talked to my stepson mom and she told them lies after lies and she was to be over our kids. But she didn’t feed them at all unless it was junk food and sodas, didn’t make them take a bath or nothing. This woman told her son that he was grounded for a week all because she couldn’t have sex with some boy at that time. Dss here needs to be looked into because if you have had any kids and been removed then they think that they can run your life after that. That’s not right and the bad thing about it is that state workers in Caldwell is on drugs and can’t help there self. And our capital isnt saying anything or doing anything about it. I’m sorry to hear that about your grandson, may God be with you and your family. I remember seeing that on TV not long after that they started on my husband and I

  3. I am sending this message not for myself but for my 3 year old step great grand daughter and her 9 year old sister. To start with their father, ( my step grand son), got the first mother pregnant before he was out of high school. After graduation they married and he remained at home to tend to the baby and she supported the family, barely.After arguments etc and a few years they seperated, never divorced. Then about the same time a female friend of the mother was living with them, (unemployed) and the father got her pregnant and they lived together and she already had 2 little girls without fathers. As time went on, and the baby was born they had seperated and when the baby was born, the mother knew she couldn’t care for the baby and we, my wife and I and my step daughter had already been buying things they needed for the baby and her older sister. The day came and the mother had talked with my step daughter to care for the baby. My step daughter then asked if my wife and I could take care of the baby for we were more financially able and willing to do so. We took her, the baby, in and cared for her just as she was our own at about 5 weeks old. The father nor the mother ever put us down at the hospital to take her in for her check ups etc. and she got behind on her shots etc. but we got in touch with the mother and the 3 of us took the baby in for her check ups and shots. After about 14 to 14 1/2 months the father came and told us he finally moved from his fathers home and rented a trailer and was taking the baby with him. Now in the time we had the baby he had only called maybe 3-4 times and stopped by to visit her maybe 5 times and supplied very little in line of diapers etc. He not only moved the baby in with him but also a woman he had known in high school and she had already had 1 child taken from her and still had a 2 year old son which the babys father didn’t want anything to do with. She didn’t work and just stayed at the trailer with the 2 babys. After a while we were allowed to keep our great grand daughter for a few days at a time. Ever since our first great grand daughter was born, we have had our spare bedroom set up for her then her little sister came along. We insured both had everything they needed for they meant the world to us. My step daughter had also done the same in her home, set up a bedroom for the 2 of them and also had everything they could need, the 3 of us love those little girls and want nothing but the best for them. The father had let the oldest daughter stay with her mother and go to school in that area and sometimes he would get the oldest daughter and keep her for the week ends. In the trailer he was living in with the other woman, it was a 2 bedroom and the kids only had an old piece of foam rubber about the size of a twin bed to sleep on on the floor, that was their bed. there was a mouse hole in the corner of the bedroom, the trailer was never really kept clean, the kitchen sink leaked, later the roof leaked and the land lord wasn’t informed of the damages and never repaired. About 2 or so months ago between my step daughter, my wife and I, we bought a trundle bed and 2 new mattresses and bedding. During one visit we found the bed apart and mattresses on the floor. I bought more wooden slats for the bed frame and put screws in them to keep them from letting the mattresses fall on the floor. My step daughter got some wood and nails from me and she placed patch on the mouse hole. The father was always yelling at our great grand daughter any time she did something he didn’t like and we have also found bruises etc on her when we kept her at our home, and her feet were still dirty when we picked her up because of the lack of a bath. The DSS from Gaston County had been to the home when they lived in Gaston County and now he lives in Cleveland County and DSS has also been to the home. In both cases which I can’t understand, they were called a day or 2 before the visit and naturally when DSS got there everything was hunk dory. After one visit the DSS team came “UNANNOUNCED” to my home to “INSPECT” the living conditions here. We were more than happy to show them around and talk with them, but my wife and I think the “INSPECTION ” of his home should have been also “UNANNOUCED” that way they would have found the “TRUE” way the kids have to live there. About 2 weeks ago my wife called and asked if she could keep the great grand daughter for a while and the woman there said yes. When my wife got there and the baby was in my wifes’ arms, the woman told her that her father said the baby could not be around my step daughter and some other “RULES” which upset my wife then the woman grabbed the baby and told my wife to leave and she was going to call the police, which she did. My wife waited for a while but no police so she left and just as she was leaving the sheriff deputy arrived. He was given the entire story of what took place then my wife came back home very upset and she has been upset over that ever since.There is much more to this story of how the father has gotten away with so much by lying, and abusing his kids, and some was brought to light the last time DSS workers interviewed the 9 year old daughter. My trust in the DSS system, (if there is) is very dark. The way I and many others in not only this state but many others, see the DSS program is not to protect the children but the parent(s) of the children and that is MORALLY WRONG. The father in this case, (my step grand son) was given everything he needed in his life and is STILL relying on family members to help him in times of need money and food wise, ie, I paid an over due power bill for his power, $643 and that has been a year and I have only gotten back $300, but he has bought a truck and also a motorcycle in that time frame. Just and example of his priorities. As I mentioned, this is only a small part of the story and I know there is no JUSTICE in this situation for our 2 great grand daughters and it is sad. I served in the Army for 24 1/2 years to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens of this country and these little girls deserve their rights protected also. So, with all said here, I pray to God someone in position to make some changes for the good of all children for they can’t do it themselves. Last note: Just remember the case of the DSS worker that was a foster parent of a young boy and left him secured on the steps of the home and a dead chicken tied around his neck. Is that the type of people we have drawing a state pay check and being a foster parent of the children of North Carolina ? If so, some one should look at the DSS program very close!!

  4. The Center for Family and Community Engagement is the biggest jewel in the North Carolina University system. They walk the talk of family driven practice; and Kara is one of the most effective advocates in Raleigh.