By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thirty-eight times a day, on average, every day of the year, a child is reported abused or neglected to the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services.
Creating “permanence” for children in the foster care system in Mecklenburg and 23 other counties stretching to the Asheville area is the Charlotte-based West regional office of Children’s Home Society, a Greensboro-based nonprofit that serves 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
Operating with over 50 full-time staff, the regional office last year served over 1,800 children and families, most of them in Mecklenburg County, and invested over $5 million in the region’s economy through program and staffing expenses.
The regional office recently purchased a 15,000-square-foot building on East Seventh Street for $2.2 million from Matthews-based Thompson Child & Family Focus, and has consolidated employees who had been located in two separate facilities.
“Getting all the Children’s Home Society staff located in one place together will make us more efficient and allow us to better serve kids and families,” says Frank H. Crawford Jr., regional vice president in the West region for the agency.
And because Charlotte is one of three main hubs for the agency, in addition to Greensboro and Raleigh, he says, “being a property owner is investing in this community, and we want to invest just like the community is investing in us.”
Children’s Home Society, which in 2010 merged with Youth Homes, receives funding from federal, state and county government for roughly 60 cents of every dollar it spends, and for the remainder counts on private dollars through fundraising and events and from foundations, corporations and individual donors, says Crawford, who served for 17 years as CEO of Youth Homes.
The agency borrowed funds to finance the new headquarters for the regional office, and now is planning a statewide multimillion-dollar comprehensive fundraising campaign that will include funds to repay the loan but mainly will focus on the array of programs it provides for children and families, he says.
Those programs, he says, all are designed to move children from the temporary solution of foster care to a permanent solution.
They include reuniting with a family a child who has been removed from the family by addressing the issues that led to the removal; finding alternative placement of the child with someone in the child’s extended family who can provide a safe and stable living environment; and recruiting families from the general population, and providing them with training and support, so they can adopt a child.
Significantly fewer children are in foster care than they were 10 years ago, Crawford says, because public agencies and nonprofits like Children’s Home Society now are providing more preventive care, including”intensive family preservation services,” that often keep kids out of foster care.
“We’ve recognized more than ever before that children who do get involved with the foster care system have significant mental health issues,” he says. “So there’s been a surge in treatment opportunities for children who come into foster care.”