(WGHP) — The State Department of Social Services is admitting it’s in an emergency situation when it comes to housing children in the foster care system, especially those with mental health challenges.

FOX8 has confirmed dozens of children are living in hospital emergency rooms because there isn’t a family to care for them.

Cone Health has eight kids living in their ER. officials tell us this is common, and the kids stay for a while.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist did not have a specific number to share, however, a spokesperson told us Brenner Children’s cares for many kids with complex behavioral health and psychiatric needs.

Novant Health said there are more than a dozen patients being cared for in facilities across the state.

“It does hurt to know that there are kids sleeping in DSS or holding in hospitals,” said Gaile Osborne, executive director with Foster Family Alliance of North Carolina.

Osborne is a mom of five with foster children and an advocate.

“As a current foster family, we’ve had conversations like ‘do we need to take one more,?'” Osborne said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were about 7,000 foster families in the state. Today, there are around 6,400.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘I just can’t afford to foster. That’s two more mouths I have to feed,'” Osborne said.

FOX8 took the problem to state lawmakers, who have seen the problem increase.

“It’s gotten so bad that at one point a few weeks ago, there was not even space in our local hospitals,” said North Carolina Senator Michael Garret.

North Carolina Representative Jon Hardister said its become a serious issue.

What makes it more challenging is North Carolina ranks 36th among 49 states for child welfare spending, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s a very scary situation, but it’s part of what happens when you neglect funding to institutions that are supposed to provide services and care to people, especially our children,” Garrett said.

Hardister wants to explore giving additional funds to children’s homes to give kids the support and care they need now.

“You have foster kids that are bouncing around from one family to the other. They don’t have continuity. They really start to struggle with their mental health,” Hardister said.

Osborne believes the only true fix is families willing to support kids regardless of their challenges.

“It scares me in the sense that we’re looking at more congregate care facilities and different settings, and we’re not putting children in families,” Osborne said. “We know children thrive in family settings.”

North Carolina Representative Donny Lambeth tells FOX8 he is working on drafting legislation to give more money to the foster care system.