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By Taylor Knopf

The number of children in the Person County foster care system continues to rise, primarily due to substance abuse, county officials said this week.

This spring, there were 82 children in the custody of Person County Department of Social Services, and 55 were displaced due to a caregiver’s drug or alcohol use.

“Substance abuse is not just affecting people using drugs,” Person County DSS Director Carlton Paylor said during an event in Roxboro on Tuesday that was billed as a “mental health town hall” and attended by about 40 people.

Attendees at a mental health town hall on Tuesday review a fact sheet handed out by Carlton Paylor, director of Person County Department of Social Services, as he explains the increasing number of foster care referrals due to substance abuse in the county. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf

“It’s affecting the kids,” he said. “This is like a generational curse. It keeps going on and on and on.”

The majority of the kids in the foster system who are affected by substance abuse are younger than 10 years old, Paylor said. And he is surprised that in the midst of a national opioid crisis, it’s cocaine that is driving almost half of the substance abuse cases the last two years.

At one point in 2015, Paylor said the department had more than 100 kids in the system. For a county with a population of about 40,000 people, Paylor said that’s a lot of kids. At the time, Person County had more kids in foster care, even though Union County had five times as many residents.

Tracking the data

Antoinetta Royster, Person County DSS human services evaluator, gathers data for the department. Her position was created in 2015 as the department saw the number of substance abuse cases growing. And along with the increased numbers, Person County DSS has increased and surpassed its drug testing budget.

Those costs have increased 65 percent over the last five years due to the increase in substance abuse cases. In fiscal year 2013-14, the county’s DSS budgeted $26,000 for drug tests and spent $12,000. In FY 2015-16, it budgeted $29,000 for drug tests and spent $41,000. This year the department asked for $56,000 to process drug tests.

Paylor said there are strict guidelines when it comes to drug testing and sometimes they are court ordered.

“But you have to understand that you have to test the kids too,” Paylor said. “We work really hard to get them back into the home, but you have to make sure the kid is safe. So you have to test the kid, mom and dad.

“We all know that there’s a lot of relapse with substance abuse,” he added.

Self medicating

Paylor has been in the social work field 20 years and often sees an underlying mental health factor in a lot of substance abuse cases.

Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) represents Person County and attends the bi-annual mental health town halls which aim to bring together mental health professionals, county officials and the community.

State Sen. Mike Woodard speaks with providers and those who attended Person County metal health town hall meeting on Tuesday in Roxboro. Photo credit: Taylor Knopf

“This is a role model for how other counties should bring their providers together,” Woodard said, adding that he brags about Person County back at the legislature in Raleigh.

Woodard said it’s important to have more conversations within communities about providing good mental health care throughout the state.

“This is essential. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but sometimes the choir needs to sing a little louder. The stigma of mental health issues still prevails. Almost every week we see another incident where a mental health issue [is the] the root cause of that problem,” Woodard said.

Paylor said he believes many people in Person County are “self-medicating” due to a lack of resources in a more rural part of the state.

He extended a scenario in an interview after his presentation.

“Let’s say they are barely making it. The transmission drops out of the Buick. We have one bus line, but if you don’t live on that line, you don’t have transportation. So if you don’t have transportation, you can’t get to work. If you can’t get to work, you’re fired. No more money coming in. Now you are depressed. It’s a snowball effect.”

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Royster said it’s difficult to watch children she’s worked with grow up and have kids who then end up back in the system.

“Knowing families with young mothers that you’ve worked with… when they die, it’s not going to be in the paper what it’s for, or why they died, but you know,” she said. “It’s overdose.

“Seeing how substance abuse takes over their life and they end up losing their lives. That pulls at you,” she said. “This is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. This stuff hits home.”

After many years in the field, Royster said that now her way of helping is to analyze the data.

“We can look at what we have,” she said. “And ask how can we take this and improve our community?”

Paylor urged folks at the town hall to consider fostering a child.

“We really need a lot of foster care homes. These kids need help,” Paylor said. “We try to place kids with family, and sometimes the best family member will be in Durham or Charlotte. But please, if anyone is interested, give us a call. We are here to help families.”

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Taylor Knopf

Taylor Knopf writes about mental health, including addiction and harm reduction. She lives in Raleigh and previously wrote for The News & Observer. Knopf has a bachelor's degree in sociology with a...

2 replies on “Person County Foster Care Staggers Under Weight of Substance Abuse”

  1. Hi, what you have to do to become a foster parent? I have thought about this before, is there a age limit, I work with United Home Care as a CNA 2, my husband is retired, Thanks

    1. I think the first step is to contact your county Dept. of Social Services and express your interest. There’s definitely a process – not a short one – that includes a home inspection, etc. I have friends who have gone through that process and are currently fostering children. It’s a huge commitment and much needed. Good luck!!

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