From SEN. STEVE CROWELL
Even though Arkansas has taken major steps to improve foster care over the past several years, the Division of Children and Family Services intends to do even better at recruiting foster families and providing services to children at a younger age.
The division staff worked with educators, law enforcement, mental health professionals and non-profit organizations on a list of recommendations to better protect vulnerable children and strengthen families during times of crisis.
Children are placed in foster care for many reasons, and the most common (52 percent) is neglect by parents. Substance abuse by parents or guardians (48 percent) is the second most common reason, followed by the incarceration of a parent (20 percent), physical abuse (16 percent) and inadequate housing (12 percent).
The state offers services to families in trouble, but the goal of services tends to be correcting bad behavior, treating a mental health crisis or reacting to a traumatic event by placing the affected children in foster care. According to a report sent to the governor, “there are currently few available services for primary prevention of child abuse in Arkansas.
One way to prevent abuse is to make sure that families know what is available. For example, Access Arkansas is a web site that links to all kinds of services, such as help with child care, job training, Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. However, according to the report, “the vast majority of professionals and families are not aware of this one-stop shop for applying for public assistance…”
Families who need social services often lack Internet capacity and technical expertise. For that reason the working group recommended more local programs to provide “a human component to help them navigate and access resources.” that help with housing, legal issues, parenting, education and employment.
The work group was established by executive order of the governor. She said that Arkansas is the most pro-life state in the country “but the pro-life agenda doesn’t end when a child is born.”
In an average month there are 4,100 children in foster care in Arkansas, living in about 1,600 homes. The Division will continue working with Every Child Arkansas, a group of organizations that recruits foster families. In particular, they will try to recruit families willing to take in youths between 10 and 17.
Turnover among foster families is high. For example, last year 1,145 foster families were recruited but 989 foster families left. Screening and training families takes time and resources, so the turnover is a burden to Division staff that is already under intense pressure.
Turnover among family case workers is staggering. Last year it was 71 percent for all workers and for program assistants the turnover rate was 90 percent, although about a fourth of that turnover was due to assistants being promoted.
Turnover among supervisors was 34 percent. A survey indicated that front line staff worked under an average of 1.7 supervisors last year. Some worked for as many as 11 different supervisors.
Most supervisors work more than 40 hours a week and do not get paid overtime.
High turnover and dissatisfaction among staff “ultimately affects the families within the child welfare system,” the working group reported. It recommended an evaluation of salaries and reforms to improve retention of staff.
Categories: Arkadelphia News