The state Human Services Department reported today on initial steps to “stabilize” the foster care system and released a report, “Moving Beyond Crisis,” on a system now caring for 5,200 children.
Mischa Martin, director of the Division of Children and Family Services, noted a 30 percent increase in children in care, both because of greater need and a slower rate of children moving back home. She said there’d only been a small increase in maltreatment investigations in the last year. But she said there’d also been an “exodus” of experienced staff and high turnover. That has resulted in high caseloads and concerns from judges about the ability of the state to ensure safety in the homes.
DHS employees have been working in what a state news release called a “war room atmosphere” to make improvements aimed at strengthening families so children can remain safely in homes; improve the quality of foster care, and improving the behavioral health system. It has stepped up placement of children in relatives’ homes to at least the national average of 29 percent. The state is working with other agencies to streamline the foster parent application process.
The state said it had also recruited more foster placement for children with special needs; improved staff communication; improved communications between caseworkers and foster parents; shifted overtime money to pay for a second shift of workers for “after hours” calls; instituted a texting program to more quickly find foster homes; reduced the reliance on emergency shelters for children aged 10 and under; created a unit focused on keeping families together; created a crisis team to send to areas with high employee turnover; and worked with the Division of Behavioral Health to find money for children and families with needs, including a temporary Medicaid program to move children quickly from intensive, high-cost residential treatment to a different setting until a comprehensive behavioral health program can be implemented in July.
The governor has also called for a budget increase for DHS in the coming legislative session to hire more case workers — $27 million the first year of the biennium and $12 million the second
Kathryn Joyce, who’s written extensively on foster care problems in Arkansas, will be providing more on this later today.