Mon, Sep 18, 2023 11:53 AM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
A group examining Arkansas' foster care system recommends more services to prevent child abuse and increased access to services to help meet a family's basic needs.
The report released Monday by the working group created by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said crisis response and other support services should be "more accessible to families or youth in crisis."
"Crises impact the entire family unit and current supports are typically aimed at correcting the 'behavioral concerns' of the child or youth rather than consideration and support of the child’s environment," the report said. "Additionally, families who experience crises can often be subjected to a lengthy process to access or gain approval for the needed services to promote stability and resilience. This often results in unnecessary and preventable hospitalizations and/or placements in foster care."
The working group's 11 recommendations include strengthening the workforce for the Division of Children and Family Services, as the turnover rate for fiscal year 2022 was 70.1%, according to the report. The turnover rate for supervisors is 33.9%, but supervisors are not paid overtime. Caseworkers can sometimes make more than their supervisors because of overtime pay and are less likely to seek a promotion, according to the report.
An evaluation of salaries and overtime policies is needed to improve employee retention, the working group said.
"High turnover and staff dissatisfaction only leads to more turnover at every level and ultimately affects the families within the child welfare system," the report said. "Families and stakeholders in this subcommittee reported a lack of continuity in case management and related services which, in turn, negatively impacted timely permanency and, in some cases, decision making as it relates to safety and risk."
The working group also recommended a continued partnership with the faith and community-based Every Child Arkansas to increase the number of foster homes, particularly for older children.
"The current average number of children in foster care is 4,100, with an average of just under 1,600 foster homes to support children in foster care," the report said. "Therefore, the need to recruit quality foster homes in Arkansas is significant. Additionally, foster homes willing to take older youth in foster care is particularly critical, with only 45.6% of children ages 10 to 17 placed in a kinship or traditional foster home at the end of May 2023, a percentage that has held relatively steady over the last year."
The working group included the Department of Human Services, Every Child Arkansas, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Education and other stakeholders, according to the governor, who said she applauded the group's work.
“I often say that Arkansas is the most pro-life state in the country – but the pro-life agenda doesn’t end once a child is born," Sanders said. "Our foster care system has the potential to put every child in Arkansas in a safe, loving home, which is why I created a working group to make it even better."