Southmountain Estates: North Carolina's First and Only Foster Community

Southmountain Children and Family Services has become known as an innovator of quality programs and has led the way for new designs in residential settings, collaborative efforts, and changes in service provision. One incredible result of these efforts has been the creation of the State’s first and only “Foster Community.”

The Foster Community exists to improve the quality of life for children in care by providing the positive aspects of group care in a traditional family foster care setting. This hybrid approach allows our foster children to benefit from the positive aspects of both a traditional model and a group home model.

Why Did We Create a Foster Community?

In the early and mid-1990s, Southmountain constructed eight homes near Nebo, North Carolina. The homes were designed to look like typical family residences in a neighborhood setting that feature:

  • Neighborhood gymnasium with exercise facilities, indoor basketball court and indoor swimming pool
  • Ceramic and woodworking shops
  • Outdoor recreation facilities including an alpine climbing tower, disc golf course and numerous walking trails
  • Playground and picnic areas
  • Outdoor spaces for families to enjoy time together

This new idea of neighborhood-style care retains many of the positive attributes of group care such as:

  • Availability to provide care for sibling groups
  • More acceptance of cultural and spiritual diversity
  • Availability to care for “hard to manage” or “difficult to place” children and adolescents
  • Remedial education programs
  • Recreation and self-esteem building programs
  • Availability of doctors, dentists, clinicians and other necessary professionals willing to treat foster children
  • Immediate support for the children and/or their caregivers in times of crisis

Why is there a need for the Foster Community?

Foster care (in any setting) is a tough, demanding, self-sacrificial, and expensive proposition. Research shows that over 50% of foster families quit fostering in their first year. National studies have identified a lack of support, too few resources, and difficulty dealing with the children in care as the main reasons foster parents quit. The Office of the Inspector General's study was verified by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) who, based on this report, made significant recommendations to aid in the retention of foster parents. Many of these suggestions are accomplished through Southmountain's unique Foster Community.

Therefore, the Foster Community allows us to provide all of the benefits associated with group care in homes that feel and operate identical to typical foster family homes. In addition, the foster community creates a natural setting for families to support one another and for foster children to feel connected, with a unique sense of belonging in their community.

What are the benefits of Community Care?

The greatest benefit of providing Community Foster Care is the availability of support for foster families. Many of the children placed into foster care have a myriad of problems brought about by abuse and neglect. Often these children present extreme behavior problems that take foster parents to the limit of their training and tolerance very quickly. Sometimes these behaviors even affect the community in which the foster family lives. During these times, foster parents need the support of professionals, neighbors, and friends who understand their plight and who are trained and willing to help.

The Foster Community of Southmountain provides readily available support for the families caring for these children. Within the community, everyone’s next-door neighbor is a “professional parent” with extensive training and a complete understanding of children in care. Furthermore, supervisors, case managers, clinicians, and other pertinent staff live within minutes of the community and are on-call 24/7.

Professional parents receive additional community support in the form of transporting children to medical/dental/clinical appointments, after-school programs, weekend activities, etc. In fact, the professional parents can lean on their built-in support group much like that recognized by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as necessary to healthy foster parenting.

In addition to their informal support, the professional parents also meet weekly for training and coaching. They receive extensive training in two programs developed by Cornell University:

  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI) provides tools to de-escalate situations that might arise with traumatized children.
  • Children and Residential Experiences (C.A.R.E.) an evidence-based model based on the premise that understanding children's pasts and building relationships with them is far more effective than trying to manage their behavior. Not only does the evidence support this theory but our own experiences with the C.A.R.E. models have proven that it works.

Are the Professional Parents employees or foster parents?

The professional parents live in the Foster Community homes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long just like typical family foster parents. However, they really aren't legally foster parents. They are full-time employees of Southmountain Children and Family Services. By employing professional parents, their time can be focused on the children’s needs, treatment goals, and growth opportunities. For many traditional foster families, it is difficult to find the time and/or energy to meet the demands of caring for today’s foster children. The Foster Community model allows these dedicated, loving parents to be able to provide the care foster children need in a way that supports both them and the children.

Who funds the Foster Community?

YOU! Southmountain Children and Family Services is a 501c3 organization whose funding is met in part by private donations. Your tax-deductible gift helps to ensure that we can successfully meet the needs of the children and families in our care.

Make a secure gift online TODAY or mail your contribution to: P.O. Box 3387, Morganton, NC 28680.