LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A working group has devised a list of changes to improve the Arkansas foster care system.
The working group was formed after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order in February to bring Every Child Arkansas, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Education and expert stakeholders to create a plan to improve foster care.
The group returned Monday with 11 recommendations to protect vulnerable children, support foster families and improve the state’s foster care system.
DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam said the recommendations will lead to better outcomes for Arkansas children.
“This strategic plan takes a holistic approach to services as they currently exist, and applies new and innovative strategies to make a big difference much earlier for our children and families who need support,” Putnam said. “Ultimately, this will mean better outcomes for vulnerable children in our state.”
Every Child Arkansas, which was formed by the February order, connects more than two dozen organizations supporting and recruiting foster families. Its Executive Leadership Council chairperson, Phillip Goad, said the Monday recommendations would improve support for affected children and families.
“Every Child Arkansas is laser-focused on ensuring that we have more than enough families to provide an ideal placement for all children in foster care,” Goad said. “We believe this strategic plan will help Arkansas make measured and meaningful improvements to the system as a whole, which will in turn bolster the available supports and services for children and families across this state.”
The recommendations began with creating a community resource model to connect families and support and service professionals. A reduction in barriers to existing public assistance programs was also recommended.
The group also recommended using proven models to reduce poor outcomes such as maltreatment. It encouraged making crisis response services more accessible for families and youth.
A cross-agency coordination team should be put in place to coordinate development and implementation, the group recommended. It also called for strengthening the state’s Division of Children and Family Services workforce.
Family support during court proceedings should be expanded, the group recommended and called for county-specific training for those involved in the child welfare system.
The group called for increased foster parent recruitment through a targeted marketing campaign. This was coupled with a recommendation to increase access to information informing the need for foster parents.
Finally, the group stated the foster parent and DCFS training model and requirements need to be redesigned.
Gov. Sanders complimented the group for its 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. 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,” she said.“I applaud these advocates on their hard work and excellent proposals, and look forward to working with them to turn these recommendations into reality.”
Recent statistics by the state House of Representatives show4,600 children in foster care in Arkansas with fewer than 1,700 foster families statewide. DHS maintains a list of foster family resources at HumanServices.Arkansas.gov.