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Giving Families a Voice in North Carolina’s Child Welfare System

A mother and child.
Photo credit: Jessica Pankratz. Shared under a Creative Commons license.

Children are among the most vulnerable members of society, and NC State University’s Kara Allen-Eckard is helping to lead an effort to better serve at-risk children and their families in North Carolina.

In December 2015, the federal government issued a Child and Family Services Review for North Carolina. The results were not good. The report evaluated 21 items related to child welfare practices and programs, and North Carolina fell short on 20 of them.

Giving Families a Voice in North Carolina’s Child Welfare System
Kara Allen-Eckard

To address these shortcomings, North Carolina developed a program improvement plan, which was issued in January 2017. As part of its plan, the state has committed to “develop and implement a state level child welfare family leadership model.” And this is where Allen-Eckard comes in.

Allen-Eckard is a community developer for NC State’s Center for Family and Community Engagement, housed within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has years of experience working with families and social services providers to meet the needs of children and their families.

Earlier this year – with financial support from North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Social Services (DSS) – Allen-Eckard was chosen to co-chair a state working group with representatives from DSS, family advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, county social services departments and family members who have experience working with the child welfare system.

“We are trying to figure out exactly what a ‘state level child welfare family leadership model’ actually means,” Allen-Eckard says.

“Broadly speaking, our goal is to establish an advisory council that will give the families we serve a voice, so that they can provide feedback to the state child welfare system charged with ensuring child safety, well-being and permanency for children in North Carolina,” Allen-Eckard says. “Hopefully, that feedback will improve outcomes for children and families.”

Since January, Allen-Eckard has been working with state and national leaders in family advocacy and caregiver education to determine strategies to develop and sustain a North Carolina State Child Welfare Family Advisory Council. This work has included outreach and support for family and youth membership on the state planning workgroup. And while the work is in its early stages, the working group plans to have an advisory council in place by January 2019.

“To an outside observer, this may come across as more bureaucracy, but it’s not,” Allen-Eckard says. “This is a concerted effort to find ways to take better care of North Carolina’s children by listening to these families. Everyone at the table knows this is a move in the right direction. We just need to find the right way to get there.”