Merger benefits welfare groups

The merger between two of the state’s oldest child welfare organizations will allow their combined resources to serve a larger population, and the new organization will carry more clout while advocating in Raleigh, its leaders say.

Barium Springs Home for Children and Grandfather Home for Children officially merged April 1, a move that both organizations see as beneficial, said Adam Hicks, the group’s communications manager.

Combined, the two will serve nearly 3,500 children in 63 counties, under the umbrella of Homes for Children. Individually, each agency has more than 100 years experience and were founded as orphanages with deep roots in the Presbyterian denomination.

Together they have nearly 20 offices around the state. They employee nearly 360 people and staffing cuts aren’t likely, Hicks said, especially when an expansion of services is possible.

“The goal is to keep the quality of care high for the children and provide them with a safe setting to develop and move past their history of abuse and neglect,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do our best to adapt our services to meet children’s needs as they change.”

Barium Springs was founded in 1891 and is headquartered in Statesville. The agency has 13 office locations and serves 41 counties, mainly in the western part of the state. Grandfather Home was founded in 1914, is based out of Banner Elk and serves about 500 children each year. With six office locations, including Winston-Salem and Raleigh, Grandfather Home has been able to serve children and families in counties farther east than Barium Springs in Troutman.

Both agencies will continue to operate under their individual names and respective board of trustees for the foreseeable future, Hicks said, noting that very little will change in the day-to-day services that each provides.

And because neither organization acquired the other, each has equal representation on the board of Homes for Children.

The organization’s expanded service area makes Homes for Children one of the largest child welfare providers in the state, giving the group “a bigger voice to advocate in Raleigh,” Hicks said.

While two-thirds of their projected $35 million annual operating budget does come from the state, private donations and funding from foundations such as the Duke Endowment are key to the other third, Hicks said.

“To grow and set ourselves up for another century of service, we need to be ahead of the curve and be ready and willing to work with like-minded missions, he said. “Barium was a large ministry on its own, Grandfather was, too. Put them together and it really helps us out when talking to the state legislature.

“From the feedback I’ve gotten, (private donors) like the fact that we’re trying to get ahead of the curve and understanding the climate in Raleigh is changing.”

Since 2010, state allocations for child welfare services in North Carolina have decreased more than $90 million – approximately 13 percent to 15 percent – due to increasing pressure on state and federal budgets, said Homes For Children Board Chairman Bill Wasulko.

Rhett Mabry, vice president of the Duke Endowment, said that the state’s future is dependent on children becoming “healthy and flourishing citizens,” which the merger can help ensure.

“I am proud of these two organizations and their ability to come together at a time when we need stable providers with more capacity to assist North Carolina’s children and families in crisis.”

Hicks said the nonprofits are hopeful that Mabry’s comments are indicative of the wider funding support system.

“That says a lot about the thinking of some of the larger foundations in the state, as seeing us as a more stable organization because we do have more resources and a larger footprint,” Hicks said.

Homes for Children board members are also working on a plan for how to proceed in places such as Asheville, where both Barium Springs and Grandfather Home have offices.

Regular meetings with state and county departments of social services will help guide future growth and services will expand as needed, officials said. “Eastbound expansion is now possible due to Grandfather’s existing presence in some eastern counties where Barium has not historically had a physical presence.”