A look at Arkansas’ Human Development Centers

A look at Arkansas’ Human Development Centers

From State Representative Deborah Ferguson This week, I had the opportunity to tour one of our state's Human Development Centers. The Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee met in the Warren facility on Monday. It is one of 5 Human Development Center's operated by the state.

Prior to the creation of human development centers, the Arkansas State Hospital provided long-term care to individuals with intellectual disabilities as well as to individuals with severe mental illness.

In the mid-1950s, plans were set in motion to develop a facility that would specialize in the treatment and education of children with intellectual disabilities.

Within one year of the opening of the Arkansas Children's Colony (later renamed the Conway Human Development Center in 1959, the facility received accolades for its physical construction as well as for its progressive curriculum for residents. Soon after, several other Southern states were following in the footsteps of Arkansas by making preparations for their own children's colonies. This was the launch of what would become the human development centers.

Today, more than 1,000 Arkansans are served by these centers. In addition to Warren and Conway, there are centers located in Jonesboro, Booneville, and Arkadelphia.

Human development centers as they exist today serve individuals with developmental disabilities.

'Developmental disability' refers to the presence of severe and chronic impairments, typically present since birth or a very young age, that persist throughout a person's life. Most residents of the center face serious challenges in day-today functioning such as caring for oneself, communicating, learning, being mobile, making decisions, living independently, and maintaining gainful employment.

The center we toured in Warren, offered unique opportunities.

These services are intended to help them become as independent as possible, thus enhancing their quality of life. Services include rehabilitation, daily living skills training, and social skills training.

The center also has an active Supported Employment program that provides employment to approximately twenty five percent of its residents. Pinewood Village Recycling is one of the only programs in Southeast Arkansas that provides pick-up service for individuals or businesses with large amounts of paper that need to be recycled. The program was one of seven state recycling programs featured at the first annual 'Can-Do' recycling conference sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Recycling Coalition and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Funding for these centers is essential to the lives of many families. This week's visit was a powerful reminder of just how valuable their services are for Arkansas families.