WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Crittenden County officials say they're struggling to find placement for the 86 children in foster care in the eastern Arkansas county and hope more families and individuals will sign up to help.
LaTava Chandler recruits and trains foster care parents for Youth Villages, which operates across the river from Crittenden County in Memphis and other parts of Tennessee. Youth Villages works with the state to coordinate foster care placement.
“Our biggest thing is recruiting efforts to get more homes because were always growing," she said.
The same could be said in West Memphis, but the challenges are much bigger, since Tennessee-based groups like Youth Villages don't operate there.
“We just can’t access each other’s resources as easily as folks think we might be able to," said Keith Metz with Arkansas's Division of Children and Family Services.
Metz even traveled from Little Rock to do an interview with WREG, as most state resources are based two hours away in the capital city.
“We’ve historically had a low number of homes here in Crittenden County," he said.
Metz called the numbers staggering and concerning.
Consider this: There are 86 children in foster care in Crittenden County, but only five available foster homes. In theory, that could mean 17 kids in each foster home. However, in reality, it means authorities have to send more than 50 children to live somewhere outside Crittenden County.
“We don’t like that ratio. We want a much closer number," Metz said. “We always want to keep children close to their homes and communities because of connections to communities, friends and schools."
There is some hope; Crittenden County officials are putting out an action call and hosting monthly informational meetings at the county DHS office. They're also getting help from organizations like the Arkansas Baptist Children Homes and Family Ministries, which just opened in eastern Arkansas in January.
“We recruit foster parents and homes through local partnerships like our local congregations and churches," Joshua Townsend said.
He said they’re already adding to the numbers.
“We have one family training soon and a couple more in the pipeline," he said.
It’s incremental change that can make a huge difference.
“It matters a lot to them to have a family they can call “Mom,” “Dad” or have a place they can call home again,” Chandler said.
If you want to learn more about being a foster parent in Crittenden County, call 870-217-9146.
Youth Villages also hosts periodic foster parent informational meetings at their offices on Shelby Oaks Drive. The next meetings are on March 14 at 6 p.m. and March 16 at 10 a.m.