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Mecklenburg County looks to churches, alumni groups to recruit more foster parents

Dss panel on door
Nick de la Canal
Mecklenburg County is facing a shortage of foster families.

Mecklenburg County is trying new strategies to recruit more foster parents. The push comes after many foster parents opted out during the pandemic, and the county has struggled to replace them.

The shortage has gotten so bad that kids in foster care are regularly sleeping on blow-up mattresses on the floor of a county office. Others stay in hotel rooms with social workers.

Denise Steele-Campbell, with the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, says there are fewer foster parents than before the pandemic.

"So many decided I just can't do it anymore, or they needed a break," she said.

The number of foster parents licensed with the county has fallen to 89 from roughly 100 in 2019, Steele-Campbell said. Other foster agencies the county contracts are also struggling to retain parents.

Meantime, Steele-Campbell said the number of kids and teens in foster care has stayed relatively constant. She said the county had 467 children in custody, with 131 of those staying with family members, and the rest in need of foster homes.

The county has contracted with a marketing agency called We Creative for an ad campaign in the coming months. Staff are also reaching out to local fraternity and sorority groups, and pastors at large African American churches in Charlotte.

"We're reaching out to them to say, can we get in front of your congregation? We need to talk to them about our need for foster parents," Steele-Campbell said.

County staff have also set up information booths at local YMCAs, Steele-Campbell said, and the county holds virtual informational orientation sessions for people interested in becoming foster parents every fourth Tuesday of the month.

North Carolina lawmakers also boosted the monthly stipend for foster parents this summer by as much as $188 dollars a month, something the county also hopes may help.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal