ROCKY MOUNT — Franklin County is working to reduce the caseloads of social services employees in the foster care unit.

Debbie Powell, director of the county’s department of social services, provided the board of supervisors with an update on the county’s foster care practices during a Tuesday meeting.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission studied the state’s foster care system and made a number of recommendations for how it could be improved. JLARC released the study in December, and it prompted a flurry of bills during the 2019 General Assembly session.

The study found that some 15% of foster care caseworkers in the state carry caseloads of more than 15 children at a time. That’s above what’s considered to be the standard of 12 to 15 children per caseworker.

High caseloads were a problem in 32 local social services departments across the state, the study found. Powell said Franklin County was among them.

The study and legislation that followed it have prompted change; Powell said the state has now set a limit of 15 cases per worker. As a result, Powell said, Franklin County will receive $63,000 to increase its social services staff. The county must provide a 15.5% match.

“We were given that money so that we could develop new staff to be able to keep us within that ratio,” she said.

Powell said she hopes those funds, along with money received as part of the state’s expansion of Medicaid, will allow her to add two employees.

The number of children in foster care has been climbing in Franklin County, Powell said. As of Tuesday, she said, 89 children were in foster care locally.

The board also was briefed on the county’s strategic plan for services to the aging. An advisory commission recently updated it.

Franklin County has a significant senior population; the median age is 46, a great deal higher than the state’s median of 38. And more people are utilizing the county’s services for the aging.

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Chapman, who oversees aging services, said more than 14,000 people were served in the fiscal year that just ended, up from around 8,200 in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The advisory commission identified three goals it considered impactful and feasible. They include increasing quality of life activities for the aging population, implementing nutrition and wellness initiatives for seniors and decentralizing aging services programs.

Chapman said the commission also wanted to voice support for senior housing, a frequent suggestion from citizens providing input for the Ferrum Area Plan guiding future growth and development in that part of the county.

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Casey Fabris covers Franklin County, Rocky Mount and Ferrum College.

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