LUMBERTON — The number of Robeson County children needing temporary foster care is growing so rapidly that the county’s Department of Social Services says it needs to hire at least two new foster care workers.
Dawn Gavasci, program manager for foster care and adoption for DSS, said that the two new workers would bring the county’s number of foster care workers to 20. Foster care workers, she said, are responsible for working directly with foster families to make sure that children are safe in the homes where they are placed.
According to Gavasci, the Department of Social Services currently has custody of 312 children, 180 of whom have temporarily been placed with relatives. Each foster care worker is averaging 18 to 20 cases, which is above the state’s average caseload of 15, she said.
“It’s a struggle to hold on with the number of increasing cases. … But this is not just a Robeson County problem,” Gavasci said. “The numbers have been going up across the state.”
The number of children in DSS custody has been going up steadily, from 110 in February 2009 to a 312 in July.
Gavasci said that children must be removed from their homes and placed in DSS custody when the environment in which they are living consists of conditions that are dangerous to their well-being. These conditions include, but are not limited to, substance, sexual and physical abuse, and domestic violence.
“I think the economy is playing a role in the increase in the number of children needing foster care,” she said. “When there is a loss of jobs, people can’t pay their bills. There’s a potential for more instances of substance and physical abuse and cases of domestic violence.”
On Tuesday, the the department’s board voted to support the agency’s request for the two additional foster care workers. The request must now be approved by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.
“The number of children needing foster care definitely shows the need for the hiring of two more employees,” said Lance Herndon, a DSS board member and a county commissioner. “This looks like something that needs to be done as soon as possible.”
Herndon said Thursday that he is not sure how the positions will be funded or how soon.
“There are things we (commissioners) can do,” he said. “In the past, when DSS has come to us with an immediate need, we have found a way to help them out.”
Anthony Maynor, the adoption supervisor for DSS, said that there is also a need for more foster families in Robeson County. Currently, he said, the county has 43 licensed homes.
Maynor said that he would like 75 licensed foster care homes in Robeson County.
According to Maynor, there is a 30-hour class held once each year in September for those interested in becoming foster families.
‘There may be 10 or 15 families who complete the course each year, but out of that number not all will always become licensed,” he said.