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Legislators want NC to stop making parents pay to avoid losing their kids

Sen. Sydney Batch, left, D-Wake, is co-sponsoring the adoption and foster care reform bill with Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, and Sen. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson.
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N.C. General Assembly
Sen. Sydney Batch, left, D-Wake, is co-sponsoring the adoption and foster care reform bill with Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, and Sen. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson.

State lawmakers want to make it easier for parents to regain custody of their kids from foster care.

A recent NPR report found that North Carolina is one of only 12 states where parents can permanently lose their kids because they didn’t pay child support to the foster care system.

The story featured a couple in Martin County who regained custody of three of their four children. But the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that their fourth child had been properly put up for adoption because they hadn’t paid some of the child support costs while he was in foster care.

A provision in a Senate adoption reform bill would change that. Sen. Sydney Batch, D-Wake, one of the sponsors, addressed the impacts of the current system on families.

“Many of the families that are in the child welfare system are already poor. And so this is just another tax,” Batch said as the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Under the new bill, parents would no longer be required to pay while their child is in foster care.

NPR reported that the situation is more common in North Carolina than in other states, and failure to pay some of the cost of foster care came up in court proceedings in 30% of court cases where parents permanently lost custody.

The change to the foster care regulations is part of a 30-page bill developed by various groups involved in the state’s child welfare system.

“This is just one of several permanency bills this year for our foster children,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. “We are taking this very seriously. And we can't do enough and we can't do it fast enough.”

Karen McLeod, president and CEO of the advocacy group Benchmarks, says the measure is “a legacy bill that's going to impact the system in a really powerful way.”

House Speaker Tim Moore has said he wants to include improvements to foster care and adoption processes in a future bill that will also restrict access to abortion.

Among other provisions in Senate Bill 625:

  • The bill would also make it easier for parents who voluntarily give up custody to have some contact with their kids after they’re adopted. Sen. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson, said he hopes that could improve court backlogs because parents might be more willing to make the move.

    “Many parents, I believe, would be willing to relinquish the rights of their children if they had the right to and the assurance that they could receive emails, pictures and contact potentially with the children thereafter,” he said.

  • The bill would require attorneys who represent social services agencies to have previous experience in child welfare cases.
  • The state’s social services agency would get new power to step in when it learns of something inappropriate happening at a county-level social services department.
  • It would create a new procedure that gives foster families an opportunity to get a hearing in front of a judge before a child is removed from their home.
Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.