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Group releases recommendations to improve Arkansas foster care system

The office of the Arkansas Department of Human Service in Little Rock.
The office of the Arkansas Department of Human Service in Little Rock.

After taking office earlier this year, Republican Gov. Sarah Sanders issued an executive order to create a working group to figure out ways to improve the state’s foster care system.

According to the executive order, the working group looked into ways the state could reduce the amount of foster children, increase the number of foster families available and increase the number of children that are reunited with their biological family.

In an interview with Arkansas PBS, Tiffany Wright, director of the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said the working group has been beneficial to her agency.

“One of my favorite things about this is it doesn’t make DCFS alone in doing this work. It really is bringing in partners and stakeholders from all over the state and experts to walk alongside us,” she said. “I think that makes it easier for DCFS and makes it easier for the work that is happening in communities.”

Mischa Martin, deputy secretary for Youth And Families at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said the working group created 11 recommendations for the state. She said one of the main recommendations from the group’s report was expanding the use of private placement agencies.

“Over the last seven to eight years, we’ve been very focused on making sure that if there were an appropriate relative to care for the kids in foster care then that kid was placed with those relatives. That also means they [relatives] needed support from the state,” Martin said.

“By partnering with our private placement agencies, they can focus on providing that good care and case management to our foster homes and the state can focus more on providing relatives with the support for the kids that are in their homes.”

In a press release, Sanders commended the group for their recommendations.

“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.”

According to the Arkansas Advocate, there are almost 4,200 foster children in the state as of March. The Advocate reported the state saw a decrease of 325 children in foster care since July of last year.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.