ROCKINGHAM — Theressa Smith is looking for a few good parents.
Smith, who works with foster care licensing through the Department of Social Services, says the 11 licensed homes in the county aren’t enough.
“We definitely have a need for foster parents in Richmond County,” she said in her office Wednesday afternoon.
May is National Foster Care Month, and a banner hangs in the lobby of the the county’s DSS building.
“Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for abused, neglected and dependent children who need a safe place to live when their parents or another relative cannot take care of them,” she said. “Thousands of children in North Carolina enter the foster care system each year and range in age from infants to 18 years old.”
She added that after 18, fostered teens can sign an agreement to stay in care until they turn 21.
Smith said DSS receives an average of 91 reports of child abuse, neglect or dependency per month. The reports can come from doctors, the school system, law enforcement or neighbors.
After a screening process to make sure statutory requirements are met, an average of 77 of those reports — 84.62 percent — are accepted. The number of accepted cases in the county is higher than the state average of 66.28 percent.
According to Smith, there are roughly 25 children in custody each month in the county, 5 percent of whom are open for adoption services.
There are a few requirements before becoming a foster parent, she said.
Anyone interested must:
•be at least 21 years old;
•have a stable home and income;
•be willing to be fingerprinted and have a criminal records check;
•maintain a drug-free environment; and
•complete all required training and be licensed by the state of North Carolina.
Smith said the training — Model Approach and Partnership in Parenting — is a 30-hour course, spread out over 10 weeks where potential foster parents learn about the agency and the children’s needs. There is also a course to provide training to help foster parents deal with children who have trauma.
“That gives the prospective foster parent a chance to discover that’s what they want to do,” she said, adding some may decide it’s not for them.
She said people come into it for different reasons, but getting rich shouldn’t be one of them.
A license for foster parenting lasts two years, she said.
Smith is also a proponent of shared parenting.
“The best situation is for biological and foster parents to work together as a team,” she said. “They are the resources that help the foster parent provide for that child.”
She added that both sets of families, along with DSS, work together to return children to their own homes as quickly as possible.
“In cases where the child becomes free for adoption, foster parents may be considered as adoptive parents,” she said.
Smith said she is planning to offer a course in June and is hoping more individuals will sign up to be foster parents.
“The more resources we have to keep the children in the county, the more contact and connection they can have with their family,” she said.
Smith added it’s important to remember that children are coming in to foster care because of adult issues, not their own.
If they have to be placed outside the county, they may lose the stability of their school and friends. The goal, she said, is to “disrupt their life as little as possible.”
To learn more about becoming a foster parent, visit www.ncdhhs.gov or call 1-877-625-4371 or contact Smith at 910-997-8446.
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.