Addressing the needs of Arkansas’ 5,000 foster children
With our children being Arkansas’ biggest future asset, and recognizing the importance of dealing with those who are in need of our open arms, we want to extend kudos to those bureaucrats associated with the Department of Human Services who have more than doubled the percentage of children entering the foster system who are placed with a relative over the past two years.
This major achievement is no doubt a key metric for improving state care of what was a growing number of foster children. Arkansas now places almost 30 percent of foster children with relatives, a far cry from what was at one time only 14 percent.
In years past, adequately addressing foster care issues within the DHS has been unacceptable but under the new leadership of highly qualified Cindy Gillespie major changes in staff and policies have made a tremendous difference in performance and outcome.
It wasn’t too long ago that Gov. Asa Hutchinson, reacting to numerous issues with DHS, sought out and discovered Gillespie and within a short time of her being brought on board as head of DHS positive changes were being seen.
One particular area of serious concern was the failed management and operation of the department’s foster care system which had unacceptable performance in dealing with children needing attention due to a variety of unpleasant circumstances beyond their control.
Listen, we’re not talking about delinquent children or children with mental issues. We’re talking about children in situations where their parents are involved in domestic issues, drugs or even criminal activity. We’re taking about children unable to take care of themselves and have absolutely no one to take care of them in time of need.
Under the leadership of Gillespie and since beginning a series of changes and hiring more employees starting in November, the total number of children in foster car plateaued. The number totaled about 5,040 a year ago and was projected to grow to 5,800. However, it’s now at 5,035, still unacceptable but being seriously addressed.
Admittedly, there remains a tremendous amount of more work to be done, including recruiting enough foster families to handle 200 more children just in Sebastian County. Sadly, while the county contains only about 4 percent of Arkansas’ three million population, about 20 percent of foster children come from that county.
We remember well back in November before Gillespie got involved, officials with the Children and Family Services Division admitted that the state’s foster system was in “crisis.” Because of the so-called crisis lawmakers approved a nearly $27 million budget increase that went into effect July 1, money that actually jump started the many changes that have been made.
Again, we’d like to applaud Gillespie and all those involved in being part of this progressive and effective change that is making a positive difference in the lives of so many of our children in need.