The below post is from Lila Riley, Crossnore’s Regional Director of the Metrolina Region
Six months with Crossnore Communities for Children has flown by! I joined Crossnore in August of 2023 from Charlotte as Crossnore’s Regional Director of External Relations for the Metrolina (Charlotte) region. Read on for more about my background and approach to my new role, creating Crossnore’s vision for expansion in this region, and where we need your help.
Just before I began working at Crossnore, a stranger shared an observation with me that was unexpected and impactful. He was watching my preschool-aged daughter and me while we were outside a store—pausing during errands for a snack. My daughter was her usual active and imaginative self, playing with “Winston,” her best buddy/stuffed dog.
“She looks really safe and happy with you,” he said.
What a compliment! I have held onto that one, through the everyday challenges of raising a young child. I hope my daughter is in fact safe and happy, and that she will be resilient through the highs and lows of her entire life. If only all kids were safe—healthy, happy, and free to play and explore childhood, and to build healthy futures—in their families. All children deserve that.
That small moment was actually very significant to me. And it illustrates why I’m passionate about Crossnore’s mission of providing hope and healing for children. And holistically nurturing each child’s mind, body, and spirit, so they can thrive.
Disrupting Generational Cycles
My professional career began as an Assistant District Attorney in Mecklenburg County. I spent three of those years in juvenile court. My job was, in part, to keep the community safe and to hold juveniles accountable when they were determined responsible for committing a crime. But I did that in a collaborative environment where the end-goal was to rehabilitate through appropriate court-ordered support and resources for the juveniles and their families. I saw many success stories, but also many unmet needs through a system that cannot continue doing more with less.
More broadly, I saw much overlap between the criminal justice system and the child welfare system.
But, I have also seen that when we support children and families holistically—as Crossnore does—we interrupt generational cycles of adversity. These are things like substance abuse, domestic violence, and poverty. When we support children and families holistically, we create healthier, safer, and more resilient communities where people can thrive.
Supporting Youth, Families, and Communities
My professional roles since then—with the City of Charlotte’s Mayor’s Youth Employment Program and Novant Health Community Engagement–have focused on proactively and equitably supporting youth, families, and community members through connection to resources, opportunities, and programming. Each of my professional experiences helped me develop an understanding of some of the complex and intertwined issues–like structural racism, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), social determinants of health, and the factors that influence upward mobility–that have resulted in generational challenges for families and communities.
The child welfare system is complex and nuanced, as are the issues and individual needs within it. I look forward to further educating myself in this space, to collaborating to address systemic issues, and to continuing my advocacy on behalf of children and families.
Leveraging direct service for systemic change
The child welfare system is in crisis and is in need of systemic change. The pandemic exacerbated an existing deficiency in the ability of the child welfare system to meet the need for placement and other services of children coming into care, and it continues to impact children in foster care through staff shortages, higher caseloads and a decline in community foster care placements. Expenses related to caring for children have gone up significantly, and there are also shortages in the availability of childcare settings, like daycare, which negatively impact foster parents.
In 2023, there were 14,416 children under 18 in foster care in North Carolina (per data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and NC Child). Data from the same source shows that in the 11 counties of the Metrolina region, the total number was 2,836 youth. In Mecklenburg County alone, 638 youth were in foster care in 2023.
Yet, data from The Imprint shows that there were only a total of 5,616 licensed foster care homes in North Carolina in 2023–less than half of what was needed. As a result, Children across the state temporarily sleep in county offices or other makeshift accommodations with Department of Social Services (DSS) social workers until longer-term placements can be found.
Because the child welfare system is statewide, Crossnore Communities for Children can serve children across North Carolina. But in practice, the majority of those we serve come from the immediately surrounding counties of our campuses (Avery and Forsyth counties) and of our Hendersonville office location (Henderson county). The goal is always to keep children close to their biological families and/or natural support networks.
For more than 100 years, Crossnore has been one of the most trusted names in child protection as a provider of holistic care, hope, and healing for children who have experienced crisis or abuse. Prioritizing Metrolina for growth allows us to connect our existing footprint across the western half of North Carolina, and to efficiently utilize our resources to meet needs. We will continue to be thoughtful and strategic in how best to grow our services here to serve children and families, and to support those already working in the system.
Creating and moving toward our vision for Metrolina
Our potential for driving positive change throughout North Carolina and beyond is undeniable. However, we recognize the significant influence of the Metrolina region, and must prioritize its inclusion to amplify our impact. We must work collaboratively with existing partners in this space, and thoughtfully consider the opportunities to bring our evidence-based programs and services to the region.
Crossnore recognizes that to be a successful leader, we first have to be an engaged listener. In Metrolina, we’re currently in an investigative phase: collecting stories, information, and beginning to understand the unique challenges currently facing this region. Over time, we can begin to strategize about how to be responsive as a trauma-informed leader, policy advocate and direct service provider.
The network of organizations already serving the population of children and families in the child welfare system in this region is strong. I am focusing my work on making introductions with government agencies, faith communities, businesses, and other nonprofit organizations and hope to demonstrate that Crossnore Communities for Children intends to be a supportive and collaborative partner.
Connections and Partnerships
So far, I am grateful for and reliant on connections made through membership and/or participation with organizations such as The Children’s Alliance of Mecklenburg County, SHARE Charlotte, Mecklenburg Metropolitan Interfaith Network (MeckMIN), Community Building Initiative, Women’s Impact Fund, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Charlotte Chapter. And, I appreciate the early, supportive, and warm welcome to this community through organizations such as Congregations for Kids, Foster Village Charlotte, The Relatives Youth Crisis Center, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center, Council for Children’s Rights, and Safe Alliance. There are many more relationships to come!
I’ve also been conducting outreach with those connected to housing, and particularly affordable housing initiatives, in an effort to begin laying the groundwork for future direct service work. These include congregations, urban developers, realtors, and real estate and affordable housing advisors.
A challenge to a regional approach is that each county’s Department of Social Services (DSS) operates independently. Crossnore and I will be working to build and strengthen relationships with government and community partners in each unique Metrolina county, but this will take time. I’ve been focused on building our presence in Charlotte and Mecklenburg county so far, because it’s the community that I know best. But my attention will gradually expand through the region. The counties encompassed within Metrolina include: Alexander, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, and Union.
Another challenge to gaining support and building partnerships–and applying for grants–is that we do not have a tangible service or physical structure here yet to show our work or our impact. But, we do have a strong foundation from which to build upon: successful models in our other three locations–Winston-Salem, Avery County and Hendersonville–with robust support and creative partnerships.
Please reach out!
I’m proud to support Crossnore’s mission of creating healthy futures for children and families, and am thrilled to join their incredible team and community. I am also calling upon our existing community of supporters and partners to help me build upon my initial work.
Especially if we have not met yet, please reach out! I want to learn about your connection to Crossnore and your thoughts on our growth in the Metrolina region, as well as any ideas for prospective partners and partnerships to explore. If we have already met or spoken, please share with me who comes to mind as prospective connections, partners, and synergistic sources of support for our work.
There’s so much more we can do together, to benefit the children of North Carolina and to create safe, happy, and healthy communities for our collective good. Onward!
Please reach out at email@example.com or at (919) 619-6482.