(WGHP) — More than 15,000 children in North Carolina are in foster care, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. While that number has stayed steady since 2020, the number of households willing to care for them is dropping.

Advocates tell FOX8 the state has seen a steady roughly 20% drop since 2019. The number of children entering foster care isn’t slowing down, and there aren’t enough families to supplement the new additions to the system.

Aesha Ealey is a family recruitment specialist with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina.  She says most people don’t know just how big of a problem this is in their own backyard.

“Right now, we have the most children out of any county in the state in the foster care system in Guilford County,” Ealey said.

With 528 kids as of June 30, Guilford County children make up just over 5% of the state’s total number of children in foster care.

The number of places for these kids to go dropped from 328 in 2019 to just 222 in 2023. The drop is similar in Forsyth with 231 in 2019 to just 158 this year.

DATA PROVIDED BY NCDHHS AS OF JUNE 30 2023
DATA PROVIDED BY NCDHHS AS OF JUNE 30 2023

“We’re desperate. You have children that are coming out of the west being placed in the east just because that’s where the open bed is,” Osborne said.

Osborne’s group Foster Family Alliance of North Carolina and so many others do their best to keep kids with people who love them.

“It’s sickening to think this child is losing more because we don’t have homes to keep them in the communities they’re in,” Osborne said.

She believes more funding from the state could help the problem.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina General Assembly tried to ease the financial burden on foster families by extending a more than $100 stipend increase per foster child.

Osborne and Ealey say the extra money helps families who are on the fence about taking the plunge and fostering with growing inflation.

“Most families would probably tell you it’s never enough with growing children, different activities and sports that they need, but any little bit is helpful caring for them,” Ealey said.

The General Assembly also approved extra funds for kinships. Previously, family members who chose to foster relative children didn’t receive the same stipend. Now, they are able to get the same money once they go through the proper channels to foster a child with a local DSS office.

Osborne sees it as a win for the child and the family members caring for them, telling FOX8 she hears from kinships they struggle with the decision to foster a relative child because of funds to pay for extra clothing and food.

“We want these children to stay with their families instead of in foster care homes if we have a valid and safe place for these kids to go,” Osborne said.

Osborne said that right now in the state, roughly 30% of kids are in a kinship. The rest are either placed or looking for a foster family.

“I would challenge people to be a part of the solution and really dig into what piece of the puzzle they can fulfill,” Osborne said.