The goal to find more local foster families has not only failed for Cumberland County’s Department of Social Services, but it has become a bigger focus.
Last year, Cumberland County and the Department of Social Services collaborated on the “Not Perfect … Just Willing” campaign. This campaign aimed to create more awareness for families and adults in Cumberland County to take an interest in being a foster family. The goal was to raise the number of foster families from 51 to 115.
That number is currently 47 — a step backward for the department, according to Delores Long, the Division Director of Children's Services for Cumberland County’s Department of Social Services.
According to Long, 585 children were needing some care. That includes the young adults who aged out (ages 18 to 21) but still received some services.
According to Long, at the end of December, 208 children were placed in family foster homes. Eight were placed in family foster homes of a relative, three were placed in adoptive foster homes, and 134 were placed in other home settings.
But there still isn’t enough room to fit all those children. That means 197 children are being placed out of the county, and 19 are placed outside North Carolina.
“The only children who could be in those 47 licensed homes are children who have no identified mental health or behavioral health needs. So that's why it’s called family foster homes. So they are the only ones who will qualify for those homes. If children have been identified as having higher needs, they wouldn't qualify to be in those family foster homes anyway. They would have to be in therapeutic homes,” Long said.
Last year, Long told the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners that 275 children were placed out of the county and 42 were placed outside of the state.
“Due to the limited number of placements that children have available to them now across the state, I don’t see any time soon that stopping. We will probably always have a need for kids to go outside of the state, even outside the county, just because of treatment facilities. Cumberland County doesn’t have an abundance of treatment facilities. So when it comes to that, children will always have to go outside the county and sometimes outside the state just because their needs are so severe that we cannot find them placements within the state,” Long said.
One positive for Long is the fact that unlike many in the rest of North Carolina or in the country, children are not sleeping or staying at the Department of Social Services. Cumberland County’s DSS owns a residential group home facility that is certified. That facility, Safe Landing Group Home, has room for six children at a time.
“We do allow those children to reside there while they are awaiting placement so that they have a home-like environment to be in,” Long said.
The typical wait time in the residential facility varies depending on the needs of the child. According to Long, level two and level three children tend to have longer wait times, even as long as six months. Children who need to go to a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility may have the longest wait.
There is another building that can be used to house children if Safe Landing Group is filled, but that is an office building and not a certified home. In 2022, over 10,000 children were in the foster care system in North Carolina, according to iFoster, a nonprofit foster care resource organization.
Not Perfect … Just Willing
In order to be a foster parent with Cumberland County, you must be at least 21 years old, get fingerprinted and have a criminal records check, complete a TIPS-MAPP course, complete an application, be reviewed by the NC Division of Social Services, complete foster home licensing, have no prior abuse or neglect reports, and re-license every two years.
Another issue for foster families is that in Cumberland County, many families move due to work and the large military population here, and licenses don’t transfer over state lines.
The campaign to get more foster families that launched last year in the county, and this year across North Carolina, keeps emphasizing that you do not need to be a perfect person to become a foster parent. You do not have to own a home or have a certain amount of income to be a foster or adoptive parent. You can be single, partnered, married, divorced or widowed. They are asking for people to provide children with stability, connection and time.
“I think the biggest thing about foster care is that foster care is a temporary living arrangement, so it is not designed to be long term. Ideally, we work to try to reunify children with their parents that first 12 months of them being in custody. So we need homes that understand that this is a temporary arrangement, but they're willing to be truly temporary parents to our children,” Long said.
“We want people who are going to have these children in their homes and treat them as if they're their own children. However, understanding that it can be short-term. And so that’s just the biggest thing. We don’t want children just to be housed somewhere. We want them to actually be part of the family’s home.”
While reunification is the main goal for the Department of Social Services, that rate was 36.84% at the end of their fiscal year, June 30. Long says a lot of that has to do with the justice system. Once children are separated from their parents, it is up to a judge to make that final determination to reunite families.
A Fayetteville City Council discussion on the cost of gun violence locally appeared to get personal during a work session at City Hall on Feb. 6.
Councilman Mario Benavente and Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin had requested that the council direct city administrators to “quantify the economic and societal costs associated with gun violence in the city.” Benavente told his fellow council members that he wants the staff to analyze gun violence in the years 2012 to 2022.
“Our community has struggled with the fact that homicides have increased 9% in Fayetteville, reaching a new high in 2022 with 44 lives lost,” Benavente said. “This is, of course, in stark contrast to other types of crimes in the city that are trending downward. While we know gun violence nationwide has become a growing issue, now is the time to better understand our unique situation by getting the data we need to implement informed prevention strategies.
“While we do get some information from the police regarding gun violence, we can put a number on the number of intentional, interpersonal violence incidents,” he continued. “We can put a number on how many intentional self-harm incidents there are, and we can put a number on unintentional injuries. However, just knowing these numbers does not reach the surface of the issue of gun violence in Fayetteville. I want us to arm our new police chief with the data that he needs developing his department’s priorities.”
Benavente encouraged fellow council members to review the results of a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation Prevention Institute, which addressed gun violence in Santa Clara County, California, over a 20-year stretch.
Gun deaths in that community were 60% self-inflicted, according to Benavente. A third were young people between ages 18 and 34. In nonfatal shootings, he said, two-thirds of emergency-room visits were by patients ages 18 to 34. All in all, he concluded, the cost of gun violence in Santa Clara County was $100 million a year, according to the study.
“So how much in Fayetteville?” he asked rhetorically. “Experts around the country have had success when they treat gun violence as a public health crisis. And it truly is. A public health approach to gun violence is what Prevention Institute is offering to cities across the country, and our community deserves to know we are ready to do what is necessary to keep them safe. So, conducting this study will be a huge step forward in this regard.”
Banks-McLaughlin then said she supports the idea.
“It’s needed,” she said. “We need to find out how much it costs, how many individuals lost their lives, the background and research for it, so we can come up with solutions. I mean, this hits home for me. I just lost my daughter four months ago. And that affected my family. And not just my family, but the community. Other families have lost their children and loved ones. So, I definitely support this effort. I think this will help figure out a way — preventative way — to decrease these numbers of crimes being committed, especially (among) our youth. I hope we can receive support from council.”
Banks-McLaughlin has said little in public about her daughter's death.
Coryonna Young, was 15 and a 10th-grader at Seventy-First High School. She was found with a fatal gunshot wound in the 2000 block of Maitland Drive on Oct. 21, Fayetteville police said. The people involved were juveniles who knew each other, authorities said. The shooting happened inside a residence.
Banks-McLaughlin and Benavente are pushing for a collection of data on fatal and nonfatal gun violence and gun possession in the city over a decade. Like other places nationwide, Fayetteville has seen an uptick in gun violence and homicides. The Fayetteville Police Department has implemented initiatives to address the issue.
But some of the numbers have continued to rise.
Councilman Derrick Thompson said he initially opposed a study similar to the one in Santa Clara because he said it was Monday when he received an information packet on the proposal. But after Banks-McLaughlin spoke, he said, he changed his mind during the work session.
“Sometimes, it touches you,” Thompson said. “It makes you change your mind. Councilman Banks-McLaughlin, as our counterpart, has lived with this. So, I’m going to support this motion to do a study.”
Benavente noted that the Santa Clara study was gathered over 20 years, but he recommended 10 years for a similar Fayetteville study “because it made sense for us.” Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins said there are few similarities between Santa Clara and Fayetteville.
“What I recommend you do is what they did. They went to the district attorney,” said Dawkins. “They went to their county commissioner group. I recommend that you go before the county of Cumberland. We’re talking about, yeah, we can do another study. We’ll all read it, and then it’ll go on a shelf.”
Dawkins said he would recommend that the council consult with the Cumberland County school board because dealing with gun violence “starts with better education.”
“Invest in school structurers. Invest upfront. I just want to remind the council that we want to spend money and save the world and help people, and that’s great. But this is not our responsibility,” Dawkins said.
“This, I think, starts with the county, which is your health, education and welfare.”
Dawkins said Cumberland County gets funding that the city does not get to address issues such as gun violence.
“It starts with schools,” he added. “Encourage the adoption of gun safety policies.
“At some point, it takes personal responsibility. So, if you want to protect your family in your home, you’ve got to make sure that a gun is not available for a child or a young person to get or play with. Because consequences occur,” Dawkins continued.
“I’m not going to support another study … just to make ourselves feel good. I’m not going to do it.” Ingram responded.
“To say that we don’t have any type of responsibility as it relates to gun violence, our police officers are responding, and our Fire Department is responding. They have to clean it up. That is a budget that we have to pay for. So, it is costing the city a hefty amount of dollars,” she said. “To say our city has no responsibility to help with the gun violence issues, that’s just disrespectful, and it’s wrong.”
Mayor Mitch Colvin said that whether the council likes it or not, gun violence impacts the city. Councilwoman Kathy Jensen said a Fayetteville study on gun violence could be “part of our toolbox. … We really need to think about this.”
Banks-McLaughlin then addressed Dawkins’ comments.
“I’ve got to take a deep breath,” she said. “First, I do want to say that everyone is entitled to their own vote. So, we all know that. But what I am going to do is correct the individual who you all know is the mayor pro tem. For you to make those comments, which is so disrespectful to me as a mother who lost her child … (and) other family members who’ve lost their loved ones; to put the blame on the family members, that’s ridiculous.
“It does fall on the city,” she said. “We oversee public safety. So, it is our job to ensure that we do everything we can do to protect our city.”
The council voted 9-1, with Dawkins the lone dissenter, to move forward with the study. Because the council cannot take formal action at a work session, the matter will be taken up again at its regular meeting on Feb. 13. After the meeting, Dawkins said that his comments were misinterpreted.
“They were starting to say what I didn’t say,” he said. “All it is is a conversation for staff to come back to council to say what it costs. It will be hundreds of thousands of dollars. I also want to say to other members (that) I’m sorry they misunderstood me.”
Methodist University is adding to its already-successful menu of online degree programs — offering five additional online programs beginning this fall.
MU’s online programs strive to bring excellence and affordability together. Not only do they provide the same high-quality instruction as its on-campus programs, but the online programs also deliver a cost-effective, flexible option for working adults, active duty military, their families and anyone else looking to advance their careers.
Each MU online course is taught by the same expert faculty as its on-campus offering, a sharp contrast to many other online programs in the nation that are taught by online-only faculty. Like on-campus students, online students also have access to a dedicated enrollment counselor who can guide them throughout the entire process.
With fall registration in full swing, now is a perfect time to consider one of Methodist University’s 22 online programs. Among them are five new online programs, which MU handpicked using extensive market research of future job opportunities along with faculty expertise.
Among the additions are one undergraduate program and four graduate programs (which are pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges):
Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sport Science
Master of Education in Educational Leadership with a Specialization in Instructional Technology
Master of Criminal Justice
Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Doctor of Nursing Practice: Executive Leadership
Methodist University is also adding five minors to its online offerings: Computer Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Health Care Administration, Psychology and Social Work. Interested students are encouraged to apply for the new undergraduate and graduate programs immediately with a deadline of July 31 for the fall semester. Visit the website to get started https://online.methodist.edu/how-to-apply/.
“The new online graduate programs and undergraduate program will allow students who are unable to complete a face-to-face program due to family, work or military commitments to pursue a fully online program and prepare for successful careers,” said Beth Carter, MU’s vice provost for Online & Extended Learning.
Along with the new programs, MU also offers online degrees in areas like Social Work, Accounting, Business Administration, Computer Information Technology, Health Care Administration, Marketing, Psychology, and much more. To see the full list, visit https://online.methodist.edu/programs/
About Methodist University
Methodist University is an independent, four-year institution of higher education with approximately 2,000 students from across the U.S. and more than 50 countries. MU offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs (including doctoral-level options) on campus and online. MU has been named the “No. 1, Most Diverse University in North Carolina,” To learn more about Methodist University, please visit methodist.edu.
According to the agenda for the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Feb. 6 Town Manager Scott Meszaros was supposed to be recognized with an award from the International City/County Management Association in honor of 25 years of service in local government.
Instead, Mayor Jackie Warner announced that Meszaros had resigned effective immediately. Neither Warner nor Town Attorney Dan Hartzog Jr. would comment on the resignation, citing personnel policies. Meszaros, whose family moved to Hope Mills from Alaska, became Hope Mills’ town manager on June 1, 2021.
Meszaros signed a contract that provided a base salary of about $129,000 a year and promised an increase and health insurance. Meszaros’ contract was set to expire in June. On Nov. 7, the commissioners voted to increase Meszaros’ pay by $5,000 a year.
Warner said that Chancer McLaughlin, the town’s director of planning and economic development, will be the interim town manager “until such time as we can go through the process to hire a town manager.”
In a statement to the board, McLaughlin said: “I appreciate your confidence, and I will proceed with a very clear version of transparency between our board and our staff. And I look forward to working with the board and town of Hope Mills.”
Meszaros could not be reached for comment Monday night.
In other town business, the board voted unanimously to:
Authorize the town manager to negotiate with CHA Consulting Inc. on an agreement for professional design services related to the Hope Mills Sports Complex.
Change a board policy to mandate that anyone who wishes to add to the council’s agenda must submit the request to the appropriate department.
Accept a request from Mauricio Melgar Andrade to annex 1.2 acres known as Park Garden Court.
The board met for a closed session for an hour and 13 minutes at the opening of the meeting, citing personnel business.