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Governor Asa Hutchinson Supports $8 Million For Foster Care System

Governor Asa Hutchinson
Sarah Whites-Koditschek

Arkansas’s foster care system may receive an $8 million boost in funding following the release of a report on the Division of Children and Family Services at the Department of Human Services.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said at a press conference Thursday he will ask legislators to approve funding to support the findings of the report.

“I accept the recommendations that have been made,” he said. “I think they’re balanced, I think when you look at them, about nine of the recommendations deal with policy and coordination,” he said, adding there is a need for a greater investment of resources.

The report found Arkansas has nearly double the national average of maltreatment reporting rate according to the review. In 2014, 22 percent of allegations were found true. There are roughly 2800 available for 4000 children in the state. In the past four months, 22 children spent the night in a local DHS office.

Hutchinson said his biggest concern is the lack of available foster care beds and he hopes funding will be increased over three years to hire roughly 200 more staff members and address the issue of a shortage of available homes.

Paul Vincent of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group authored the report. He commended DHS for cooperation.

“There’s a tendency when you’re under this kind of pressure and you don’t lack for critics, to sort of circle the wagons and try to figure out all of the solutions yourself. I’ve been in those shoes,” said Vincent.

“Where I’ve seen systems be successful, and it’s certainly been my experience, it’s when you’ve your partners in to help solve the problem,” he added.

John Selig, head of the Department of Human Services in Arkansas, said his department will run better with more resources and better coordination.

“We in DHS really appreciate you’re making a commitment to really see this through. They clearly really want to do the right thing,” he said.

The Governor said he has designated a staff member from his office to coordinate interagency planning.

The review comes months after the Arkansas Times reported on the sexual assault of two re-homed, former adopted children of state Rep. Justin Harrs, R-West fork, and on instances improper decision making on the part of DHS officials in placing children in foster homes.

Recommendations include:

1.  Designate a Staff Member in the Governor’s Office to Coordinate Interagency Planning and System Collaboration for Children, Youth and Family Services.

2.  Build DCFS Capacity to Partner with Stakeholders.

3.  Address the Placement Challenge.

4.  Create a County-Central Office Task Force to Address Administrative Flexibility.

5.  Improve the DCFS – AOC Working Relationship.

6.  Expedite the Process for Filling DCFS Vacancies.

7.  Develop and Implement a Principle-Based Operational DCFS Model of Practice.

8.  Strengthen DCFS Practice in Assessing Safety Assessment and Engagement Skills.

9.  Expand the Availability of Intensive Home and Community-Based Mental Health Services.

10.  Develop a Three-Year Plan to Reduce DCFS Caseloads to an Average of 20.

11.  Determine Responsibility for Implementing Recommendations.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a former News Anchor/ Reporter for KUAR News and Arkansas Public Media.