Raleigh, NC – North Carolina lawmakers passed major reforms to the state’s child welfare system this year, a cause championed by House leaders including Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett).
House Bill 630 Child/Family Protection and Accountability Act/Rylan’s Law creates a new regional oversight system for county social services departments. It was sponsored by Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore), Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), Rep. David Rogers (R-Rutherford) and Rep. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph).
Lewis, a House leader in his eighth term, also helped shepherd the reforms into law to improve outcomes for foster youth and families across North Carolina.
H.B. 630 provides the state heightened authority to hold local governments accountable by increasing oversight of child outcomes.
The legislation implements “whole-scale changes to North Carolina’s child welfare practices and oversight,” according to a press release from Lewis.
“This bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to impact social services,” Lewis said.
“It overhauls the system to drive safety, security and permanency for children in foster care across all 100 counties.”
The reforms include provisions to address the tragic death of Rylan Ott, a twenty-three-month-old child who died as a result of social services failures.
Rylan drowned after he was placed back in his mother’s care only two months after being removed from her home. The decision was made despite objections from the guardian ad-litem and without any DSS-supervised home visitations.
The investigation that followed found chronic understaffing of child welfare workers led to high caseloads that significantly contributed to “errors and omissions” in the department.
To help prevent future cases like Rylan’s, the law that bears his name requires county DSS agencies to observe a child with his or her parents at least twice prior to reunification.
“Foster care reform was a priority for the North Carolina House this session to provide at-risk youth with a brighter future,” said House Speaker Tim Moore. “I’m proud of this progress that will deliver better services for so many families and children.”
Rylan’s Law is one of several provisions included in H.B. 630 to improve foster care and child welfare in North Carolina. The legislation also:
- Regionalizes supervision of local DSS offices;
- Provides state DHHS with greater authority and responsibility to hold county agencies accountable for child outcomes;
- Brings in a third party to develop and implement recommendations to transform child welfare services in North Carolina;
- Requires social workers to observe a child with his/her parents at least twice before reunification (Rylan’s law);
- Creates a council to align children’s services across government agencies;
- Reduces barriers for youth in foster care to drive;
- Reduces the time to permanency for children in the child welfare system.
“This legislation is a step in the right direction and puts the child above the current social services system, that in some parts of our state is failing our children, by demanding transparency, accountability, and quality of care for children in foster care,” Lewis said.
“It’s time we reform our foster care system in favor of our children. They deserve nothing less.”