Raleigh, NC– Legislative leaders passed HB 630 Child/Family Protection and Accountability Act ('Rylan's Law") this past session in an effort to reform and modernize North Carolina’s child welfare system by creating a regional oversight system for county DSS agencies, by providing the state with greater authority to hold counties accountable for child outcomes, and by bringing in a third-party to implement whole-scale child welfare practice and governance reform. This legislation passed the North Carolina House of Representatives on June 14, 2017 and signed into law on June 21.
"This bill is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to impact social services. It overhauls the system to drive safety, security and permanency for children in foster care across all 100 counties," said Rep. David R. Lewis (R-Harnett), who helped shepherd the legislative effort to pass HB 630 in the North Carolina House.
HB630 is largely a response to ongoing challenges in North Carolina’s child welfare system. In 2015, North Carolina performed miserably in a federal review, failing all 14 categories measured. In 2016, a legislatively mandated report by the private agency PCG showed pervasive systemic problems with North Carolina’s child welfare system.
These reports coincided with high-profile cases in which children died as a result of DSS failures, including the case of Rylan Ott. Twenty-three-month-old 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.
To help prevent future cases like Rylan’s, HB630 requires county DSS agencies to observe a child with his or her parents at least twice prior to reunification. This provision is one of many included in the legislation that will address the systemic issues that led to failed reviews and child fatalities.
Specifically, the bill:
- 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. It’s time we reform our foster care system in favor of our children. They deserve nothing less," said Lewis.
Rep. David Lewis, a farmer and small businessman from Dunn, NC, is serving Harnett County in his eighth term in the North Carolina House.