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School of Social Work research team selected for 2017 C. Felix Harvey Award

From UNC News Services

A multi-disciplinary team led by experts from UNC School of Social Work working to improve support for relatives fostering abused or neglected children is the winner of the 2017 C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities. In collaboration with community partners, the school is using the $75,000 award to spearhead an effort to help these caregivers qualify for and receive financial resources and community support commensurate to adoptive parents.

Reflecting a core Carolina value — serving the public good — the C. Felix Harvey Award recognizes exemplary faculty scholarship that addresses real-world challenges and reflects the University’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation.

According to the project’s investigators, nearly 500 children in North Carolina are removed from their birth homes each month because of child abuse or neglect. Almost 30 percent of these children are placed with relatives. While these short-term placements often turn into long-term situations, only 8 percent of relatives qualify for the same financial support available to traditional foster parents.

To qualify for financial help, caregivers must go through a licensing process that includes parenting training, home evaluation for appropriate safety preparedness and adequate sleeping quarters, among other requirements. Unlike traditional foster parents, relatives often become caregivers during crises and therefore few have taken the necessary training to unlock financial assistance. To help address this disparity, researchers will use the C. Felix Harvey Award funding to develop, implement and test a new approach to qualifying relative caregivers for the same level of guardianship assistance that adoptive parents receive.

“When a family is in turmoil, children are helpless victims with no control over their environment,” said principal investigator and assistant professor David Ansong. “Close relatives can provide immediate stability and allay fears, but may not have access to resources and services that meet their family needs. This project will help ensure families get the resources they need so they can focus on creating a stable family environment that is essential for healing.”

The UNC-Chapel Hill team also includes Selena Childs, clinical assistant professor; Kanisha Brevard, research associate; and Mark Testa, Sandra Reeves Spears and John B. Turner Distinguished Professor, whose research helped pave the way for the creation of the federal Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) in 2008. North Carolina recently joined 35 other states in making this program available to grandparents and other relatives looking after children who have been removed from their birth homes.

The team will work with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and a coalition of community partners to develop a cost-effective licensing process tailored for relatives so that they will be eligible to receive GAP payments. The coalition includes the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina — whose innovative Family Finding program helps recruit relatives to care for children placed in foster care — as well as county social services leaders who administer the licensing process and manage the GAP program in North Carolina.

With expert advice from Testa, this process will address relatives’ needs for child care, transportation, case management and financial assistance, eliminating many barriers for relative caregivers. The intervention will also use social media and mobile technology to disseminate licensure resource guides to a broader audience and raise public awareness about the availability of GAP. Lastly, findings from the evaluation will inform statewide adoption of the new licensing approach for kin.

“Ultimately, this project will create a pathway for relatives to become licensed foster parents and eventually permanent legal guardians of these children,” said Michael A. Becketts, assistant secretary for human services in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The late C. Felix Harvey was chairman of Harvey Enterprises & Affiliates and founder of the Little Bank Inc., both in Kinston, North Carolina. A 1943 Carolina graduate, he joined his family in 2007 to endow the C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities with a $2 million commitment. Five generations of Harveys have earned UNC-Chapel Hill degrees.