Behind every program, every institution and every rule; are real people.
Public servants who help run the programs.
Groups and organizations outside of government who support the work of public servants.
And the list goes on.
That’s why DHS is launching a new blog called “Beyond Policy” as a way to share stories about our employees, our community partners, volunteers, and the people we serve. DHS is filled with public servants who work at this agency because they want to help people in need – not just for the sake of helping but so that the people accessing our services have better lives and eventually no longer need assistance. We partner with amazing groups from the faith-based and non-profit communities to help serve our clients. We also have a network of providers across the state that ensure children, vulnerable adults and people with disabilities have a safe and appropriate place to live or access to needed treatment. Lots of regular people with no particular affiliation help us, too. This space is where we will tell their stories.
We’ll start with children – not children we serve through our early education programs, the child welfare and foster care system, the juvenile justice treatment centers, or the ARKids health insurance program – but three ordinary kids who have done some very extraordinary things to help three organizations that support the foster care system.
You first have to meet Ross and Addison. These adorable 8-year-old friends have partnered up – Addison making lemonade and Ross making homemade cookies – to raise money for the Walk for the Waiting, which is this weekend. This fundraising walk supports the work The CALL, Project Zero and Immerse Arkansas do to help children in the Arkansas foster care system. Last year, Addison and Ross raised $5,801 for the Walk for the Waiting by selling cookies and lemonade. Buoyed by that success, the two second-graders have joined forces again this year with a goal of raising $10,000. As of May 1, Addison and Ross have met their goal! What compassion and drive these two have shown for children waiting for their forever families.
They are absolutely adorable – and more than willing to go on camera and pitch their goodies to perfect strangers if that means meeting their goal. They served as inspiration for me when my 6-year-old daughter, Josie, watched a TV show about kids hosting a garage sale to raise money for charity. Josie wanted to do the same thing, but give the money to children in foster care. She learned about foster care because of the work I do at DHS, and she is beginning to understand that children in foster care are kids just like her. They want toys, fun experiences and a loving family.
I told her about Addison and Ross, and she decided to donate proceeds from the sale to the Walk for the Waiting as well. More than a dozen friends and co-workers donated items for the sale. Several helped price items and work the sale in late April. We raised just over $2,000 in five hours! Foster and adoptive families came out and shopped as did DHS staff, neighbors, friends from church, and strangers. One elderly shopper heard that proceeds would be donated to support foster care and delivered a bag of items for us to sell.
These children – and the adults who help them – are good reminders that it takes more than a government agency to provide services and the right supports to the people DHS serves. So thanks to everyone pitching in to help us – whether you are selling lemonade or providing a safe home for an adult with a developmental disability – we couldn’t do what we do without you.
Amy Webb is the DHS Chief of Communications and Community Engagement. She has worked for the agency for almost six years.
Just a few of Josie's helpers are pictured here. From left, Keith Metz, Shiloh Marlar, Amanda Mills, Tiffany Wright, Beki Dunagan and Mischa Martin.
Lane eager to help solve opioid epidemic
Posted Date: 11/03/2017 By: Kirk Lane
My name is Kirk Lane. I’m a product of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and the FBI National Academy.
I’ll be frank – the task of undermining the opioid epidemic is vast.
Similar to many regions of the nation, Arkansas has been hit hard by opioid-related developments. In order to defeat this epidemic, we’ll have to assume an all-hands-on-deck approach.
This battle against prescription drug abuse is a matter of saving lives, preserving the well-being of families, and helping to reverse the tide of a growing issue. I’m confident this mission will be a success. I have such a stance because I join a legion of honest, dedicated, hard-working Arkansans in striving to prevail over this disconcerting trend.
I am the Arkansas Drug Director. I’ve been in the role of state drug director since August. This is the most recent stanza, in my well-established record of participating in the fight against drug abuse.
Prior to becoming a state official, I was Benton Police Chief. Before 2009, when I became the Chief of Police in Benton, I was with the Pulaski County Sherriff’s office for more than two decades. As a member of the Pulaski County staff, I was captain of its Criminal Investigations Division for nearly a decade.
Additionally, I’ve also been involved with the Arkansas Prescription Drug Advisory Board and the Arkansas Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. In the process, I’ve gained extensive education about the dangers of opioids.
I’ve witnessed the impact of the improper use of prescribed medicines. The consequences of opioid addiction are heartbreaking. It’s a situation which can erode at the emotions of even the most jovial person. Therefore, this is a crisis we as citizens must address. We can no longer turn a blind-eye to it.
But in order for this task to reach its full potential, your assistance is necessary. Your cooperation is needed. I want to invite you to join or to encourage your local law enforcement agency in combatting a huge epidemic.
But how can that be done, you ask.
By spreading the word about the hazards of prescription drug abuse and encouraging your law enforcement leader to be proactive in dealing with this epidemic.
So I encourage you to speak with the youth, your neighbors, clergy, elected officials, middle and high school educators, and community leaders about preventative measures of prescribed drug abuse. Making sure the problem never manifests in your household or neighborhood is a huge step in the right direction. The resolve of this epidemic begins with you.
Join me in the fight against the widespread opioid epidemic.
In January Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas General Assembly took steps to fund 500 new slots for the Alternative Community Services (ACS) Medicaid Waiver (aka the DD waiver, and soon to be known as the Community and Employment Support waiver), which will allow 500 individuals with developmental disabilities to move off of a waiting list and finally begin receiving home and community-based services. There are approximately 3000 people currently on this waiting list, and many of these “Fortunate 500” have been waiting almost 10 years for these critically important services, including our son, Bradley, who has autism.
The services provided through waiver are based upon the individual needs of the recipient and may include specialized adaptive equipment, supportive living services, and even supported employment services. The program is, without a doubt, one of the most valuable programs available to people with developmental disabilities in the state of Arkansas, and it’s hard to describe how much these services will mean to the 500 people moving off of the waiting list. For parents of young children moving off of the list it may mean they’ll be able to work and continue to pay the bills during the summer months (yes, many parents of children with developmental disabilities are unable to work during the summer when school isn’t in session). For adults with developmental disabilities it may afford them with the supports they need to finally get a job and move out into their own home (note: it is a universal truth that all young adults…even young adults with disabilities…do not wish to live with their parents forever and, frankly, that all parents do a “happy dance” when their adult children move out of the family home). I cannot possibly know what precisely these services will mean for the other Fortunate 499, but I do know what this means for our son and our family.
For our son Bradley, who will be an adult in a few short years, it means his future will be FULL of opportunities:
The opportunity to live where, and with whom, he wishes
The opportunity to belong to a faith community of his choosing where he can worship and benefit from a fellowship of service to a higher purpose
The opportunity to contribute to society and earn a living through meaningful, integrated employment
The opportunity to participate in recreational and volunteer activities in the community that will improve and enrich his quality of life
The opportunity to make and maintain connections to people in the community…friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc.
And, most importantly, the opportunity to SHARE HIS MANY GIFTS with the rest of the world
Yes, the future for Bradley is bright indeed, and FULL of possibilities. I can’t wait to see what he makes of it.
(Dianna Varady is the Director of the Arkansas Autism Resource & Outreach Center (AAROC) and a trainer for the Welcome the Children Project at Partners for Inclusive Communities, the Arkansas University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). She, her husband, Steve, and their son, Bradley, live in Little Rock, Arkansas.)
What Is FASD and Why Is It Important to the Department of Human Services?
Posted Date: 09/13/2017 By: Paula Mainard, BSW, FASD Program Coordinator
FASD is an acronym for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is the number one cause of intellectual developmental disabilities in the United States.
Bet that got your attention.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during her pregnancy. Awareness for alcohol-exposed pregnancies is a crisis situation in the state of Arkansas, and prevention education needs to be the priority. Many people are unaware of the dangers to their unborn child and are often advised by their peers that a glass of wine is safe. The CDC states that all types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer[ii]. The message we as a Department need to promote is None for Nine (no alcohol for nine months), because this disorder is 100 percent preventable.
Relevance for the Department as a whole is multi-faceted. The impact on long-term community health is substantial, and statistical data shows there is an increased incidence of alcohol exposed pregnancies for the population of clients served by the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Division of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS), Division of Behavioral Health Services (DBHS), Division of Youth Services (DYS), and the criminal justice system.
This means a large part of the Department’s overall budget is used to house, educate, care for, and feed children and adults who have a 100 percent preventable disorder for which there is no cure, and a grim outlook for success without significant interventions. People affected with FASD are often involved with the justice system due to their impulsive and erratic behaviors. People affected often have receptive language barriers and poor executive functioning that could lead to potential failure to understand what is asked of them in stressful situations, including the ability to follow simple commands.
Many affected individuals have intellectual disabilities, cannot live independently as adults, or suffer from secondary disabilities. Secondary disabilities may occur at any age and include: mental health problems, school failure, trouble with the law resulting in confinement, inappropriate sexual behavior, and alcohol/drug problems. In addition, the chances of dependent living as adults was increased by 80 percent and problems with employment were indicated in 80 percent of adults with FASD[iii].
But there is hope. Public education to reduce the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and increase awareness and interventions for children and adults affected by FASD will improve overall outcomes. Connections to services, including early intervention, can improve success in the home and school settings for children, in the community as adults, and decrease the incidence of secondary diagnoses. A stable, non- violent home is crucial to the success of these individuals. It is our duty as an agency to learn more and educate others about this preventable disorder, and to advocate for and provide services for those affected by FASD.
Paula Mainard is the Fetal Alcohol Program Coordinator for the Division of Child and Family Services. She has a background as a field FSW with experience in foster care, protective services, and investigations. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and is the adoptive parent of a child with FASD. She is familiar with navigating the process of obtaining a diagnosis, advocating for educational accommodations, getting connected to appropriate services, and building a support network for those affected. She is passionate about this disorder and prevention efforts to reduce the occurrence of this 100 percent preventable condition.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. (n.d.). Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE). Retrieved August 29, 2017, from http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Adoption_and_Foster_Care/About_Our_Children/Disabilities/fetal_alcohol.asp.
[ii] Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). (2017, June 06). Retrieved August 28, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html.
Posted Date: 08/29/2017 By: By James Washington Division of Youth Services Public School Program Coordinator
Education is a continual process.
Every moment, every situation provides an opportunity to learn something new. A person’s willingness to learn at any age does a lot to upgrade their standard of life.
I can personally attest to that. And I am thankful for how far I’ve come.
I’m James Washington, an alumnus of Ouachita Baptist University who’s a Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS) Public School Program Coordinator.
The career I have and how I approach my duties was decades in the making.
My childhood unfolded in Hot Springs during the era of Jim Crow. In the midst of turbulent times, the importance of education was championed by my parents and other adults in my community. These individuals all desired for my peers and I to have a life filled with success and happiness.
They knew that education, being able and willing to learn at any age, was the key to reaching that goal.
The concept of attaining a quality education was so ingrained in me that as a student at Langston Jr. High – I decided to become an educator. At Langston, we were taught the traditional education subjects. However, our teachers – who were all black – also emphasized principles such as valor, citizenship, and good character.
Those teachers and their life-lessons have influenced me a lot. To this day, I take heed to their guidance.
The passion I have for learning is spurred not only by my childhood, but also several situations I’ve encountered as an adult.
Many of those developments are linked to my tenure in education.
I’ve assumed several demanding duties as an educator, most notably being an assistant principal, principal, director of student assignments, and student advocate ombudsman.
However, especially in relation to learning at any age, my time as principal of Henderson Middle School in the 1990s taught me a lot. For years the school had been overwhelmed by gang violence. When I became principal, I along with a few staff members, found ways to relate with and love those supposed “bad kids” in a way they had never experienced. Treating those particular students as youth who were simply in need of love, hope, and reasons for optimism opened their eyes to the damage they were causing. Eventually, we curved the tide of gang violence at Henderson.
Those students learned a lot in that situation. But I probably learned more from them – than they did from me. Prior to arriving at Henderson Middle I’d seen a lot and been through a lot. However, some of the most influential lessons I received came from a group of people several decades my junior.
In 2014 – after 35 years – I retired from public education and joined the DYS staff.
In my role for DYS I’m often reminded that people make mistakes. Basically everyone deserves a second chance. That second chance to succeed is amplified with a solid education. I take pride in being able to use educational resources to help at-risk youth.
Even when things don’t go as planned, I receive solace from knowing that I’m in a position where youths learn from me. And in the instances where I can build a rapport with our DYS students, I usually learn from them as well.
Learning at any age is important. I appreciate how DHS, by way of DYS, has provided me with situations in which I learn from the youth while they’re also learning from me. It never gets old, despite me now being an old man.
Nolte family is grateful for ‘Early Intervention’
Posted Date: 08/02/2017 By: By Christi Nolte, Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education (Family Support Unit), Pulaski South Office
As a mom, wife, and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff member, I’ve personally experienced the worth and innovative services of Early Intervention.
My name is Christi Nolte. I’m based in the Pulaski South Office, within the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Family Support Unit.
Whether it’s while fulfilling duties at the workplace, or observing the maturation of my daughter Catherine, I’m constantly reminded of how DHS helps several Arkansans enjoy an independent lifestyle.
Catherine was born at 30 weeks. Two days later, our family was overcome with fear as Catherine’s heart and lung bled out. My hope for her survival began to wane. I had listened to the grim diagnosis about her potential limitations. Thoughts of her life in the future – and Catherine being able to excel – were minimal. However, Catherine’s 45-day neonatal intensive care stay greatly improved her status. I was just thankful to bring her home.
Later in Catherine’s life, a pediatrician noticed her delays. Ultimately, he made a referral to Early Intervention and physical therapy. The program – which is offered by the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) – confirmed the obvious: Catherine had physical and cognitive delays. The Early Interventionist diagnosed my daughter’s status, declaring that with unwavering teamwork, Catherine could potentially have a full development.
Each of the Early Intervention specialists made therapy sessions seem like kid’s play, especially for my daughter. The Early Interventionist was there when Catherine had setbacks and new problems arose. But much to our family’s delight, Catherine developed nicely and was able to leave Early Intervention therapies behind. She caught up to kids her age and even began to exceed past some of her peers.
Recently, Catherine finished eighth in the Benton High School class of 2017. She leaves for John Brown University this month. On behalf of the Nolte family, I want to thank the state of Arkansas for making the impossible possible. Catherine’s path could have been so different without the Early Intervention program. We’re grateful for the services of Early Intervention. We hope other families utilize Early Intervention as well. It’s a true game changer.
Love, Comfort, Safety and Support: National Reunification Month Wrap-up
Posted Date: 07/06/2017 By: Keith Metz, DHS Communications Specialist
Over the past few weeks, we have been sharing reunification success stories from across the state. We learned about Rosie and the redemptive power of a strong, positive support system. We heard from Jesse and Krystal and witnessed their willingness to focus on their children’s well-being above all else as they worked to create a new normal for their family. Lastly, we got to know Misty and Justin and learned of their passion for and dedication to reunifying families by healing and repairing the lives of the children in their care and their parents.
And we could have shared so many more success stories. Though National Reunification Month is over, we will continue to share success stories and work toward broader acceptance of reunification because it is the most common goal in our cases with families, and it’s also our most common outcome. Last year, 44 percent of the children who left foster care in Arkansas were reunified with their biological parents. An additional 28 percent were reunified with biological relatives. Another 20 percent were adopted, which means that Arkansas exceeded the national average of 80 percent of children either going home, to a relative, or to an adoptive home.
For most of us, home is about love, comfort, safety and support, and we want to empower parents to become the loving, comforting, safe and supportive presence that their children need and deserve. This is why reunification is so important.
It takes an incredible amount of teamwork to realize these goals for our children and families. Investigators make the initial assessments of risk and safety and put foundational services in place to help. Caseworkers assess a family’s strengths and needs even further as they collaborate with the family to determine the best path to success for them. Supervisors monitor the bigger picture, coordinating agency efforts and guiding the tea
A New Normal: Jesse and Krystal’s Story
Posted Date: 06/16/2017 By: Keith Metz, DCFS Communications Specialist
This is the second in our series of reunification success stories during National Reunification Month, shared by Carlos Torres in Crawford County. While last week’s story featured a single mother fighting against her own demons to achieve reunification with her daughter, this story centers on one family’s efforts to focus on the children and find a new “normal.” This is Jesse and Krystal’s story.
Jesse and Krystal’s family is like a lot of families. They love their two children – son Bryer and daughter Kaydance – but couldn’t get along as husband as wife, so they divorced and created new lives for themselves and the children. Krystal had primary custody, but both she and Jesse knew that the children needed both parents involved in their lives, so they agreed upon ample visitation.
In early 2016, however, the family experienced issues that resulted in the children coming into foster care to ensure their safety. The agency knew it needed to move quickly to develop a plan that would return the children to their family, and Carlos Torres was assigned as their Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) caseworker.
After spending time with the family and assessing each parent’s strengths and needs, he realized that everyone loved the children very much but needed to learn new ways to interact and effectively and safely parent the children. Both sets of parents began actively participating in reunification services such as parenting without violence classes and individual counseling. The children also began attending their own counseling sessions.
Carlos and the entire Crawford County DCFS team consistently communicated with both parents and their therapists, and by May 2016, the team decided that the children should be placed with Jesse and his family while continuing to be in foster care and receiving reunification services. One of those services was supervised visits in Krystal’s home to ensure the children’s safety.
DCFS Program Assistant Candace Gregory supervised those visits. Candace remembers these visits fondly, but acknowledged “it was a bit bumpy at first as they adjusted to having a stranger in their home.” Krystal and her husband consistently implemented the skills they had learned in parenting classes. “It was just amazing to watch them grow as a family again,” Candace said.
Krystal said Candace “helped me more than anyone else…she helped us grow with advice and kind words of encouragement. We consider both Candace and Carlos as friends still.” Jesse echoed those words, noting that Carlos and the team were all great to work with during a stressful time. The children thrived living with their father Jesse but quickly realized that they were going to be safe and secure in both homes, and both sets of parents began to trust each other again.
Jesse and Krystal and the whole family began family counseling sessions to further support the big changes the family was undergoing. By August 2016, a judge gave Jesse full custody of the children, and Jesse and Krystal worked together to agree on frequent visitation. But the case remained open and the supervised visits with Krystal and her husband continued as the family adjusted to their new circumstances. Candace recalled one of these visits with great pride.
“Krystal was pregnant at the time,” Candace noted, “and Carlos asked me if I would bring the kids to an ultrasound appointment to see their little sister. It was such a blessing to see the kids’ faces when they saw their sister for the first time on the ultrasound. That moment, I realized how important the work is that we do for our families.”
By October 2016, the entire team – and the children – agreed that the family was ready for unsupervised visits, and in December 2016 the court allowed Carlos to close the case.
It’s now June 2017, and things continue to go well for the children and for Jesse and Krystal. Bryer is now 9 years old, Kaydance is 11 years old, and their new baby sister Micha has everyone wrapped around her finger. Jesse commented that “the kids love being kids – playing outside, camping, fishing…just like every other kid.”
Jesse and Krystal’s families live their own lives and enjoy their time with the children in their own ways, but they remain committed to working together for the overall good of the children. Carlos, Candace and the whole Crawford County team are very proud of the family and of the work they all put in to create a new “normal” and we’re happy to share their success story.
Reunification: Bringing Your Children Home from Foster Care
Posted Date: 06/08/2017 By: Beki Dunagan, DCFS Assistant Director
June is National Reunification Month. As part of our focus on reunifying families when safe and appropriate, we thought we would offer some insight into what reunification really means and address some common questions people may have about how reunification occurs and why we focus so hard on strengthening families to help in that process.
“When can my children come home?”
This is the first question many parents ask when their children are placed in foster care with the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services, or DCFS. When children are placed in foster care, it can be very stressful for everyone in the family. Parents may feel angry, overwhelmed, or worried about their children’s safety and well-being. The children may be confused and scared. But foster care is not forever. Children can and do return home to their families. In fact, this is the most common outcome. Here in Arkansas, nearly 70% of all children who exit foster care go home to either their parents or to a relative.
Reunification -- which means getting the family safely back together after the child has been placed in foster care -- is almost always the first goal and in the child’s best interest. Being involved with the foster care system can provide a family with support and afford an opportunity to grow and develop a closer bond than before. By fully participating in the case plan and the services it includes, parents can strengthen their skills to become the best parent that they can be for their children.
“What Can I Expect While My Children Are in Foster Care?”
The goal of the foster care system is to ensure children’s safety and well-being. To do so, DCFS will provide a safe, temporary place for children to live and will work with the family to develop a case plan. Before children can come home, DCFS and the court must be certain that parents can keep their children safe, that they can meet their children’s needs and that they are prepared to be parents. The caseworker will work with parents to develop a case plan to help the family meet these goals. This plan is the road map for reunification and it will spell out exactly what needs to be done and learned in order to bring and keep the children home. A case plan is not just about “checking boxes” to get children home. The goal is to create a stronger and healthier family.
“What Can I Do to Help My Children Come Home?”
While children are in foster care, it is important for parents to fully understand why they are there and to participate in the case plan to make the family home safe for their return. Visiting children while they are in foster care has many benefits. Most importantly, it helps to preserve and strengthen the parent/child bond while separated. Regular visits also can soothe children’s fears and worries by showing them that parents care about their well-being and will be a constant, valuable presence in their lives. It also shows the agency that parents are committed to their child. Also, a parent’s experience with the foster care system will include many different people. Some of these are the caseworker, foster parents, agency attorney, child’s attorney, Court Appointed Special Advocate and so on. Working well with each of these members of the team will improve the chances of bringing children safely home.
“What Will Happen as Reunification Gets Closer?”
One of the best indicators that parents are getting closer to bringing their children home will be their visits with them. Moving from supervised to unsupervised visits and receiving longer visits – overnight, weekend, or more – are good signs that the family’s case is progressing. At some point, the children may come home for a “trial home visit.” This means that they live at home on a trial basis, but the agency still maintains legal custody for a period of time.
“What Can I Expect After My Children Come Home?”
When parents have completed their case plan goals, DCFS and the court are certain that parents can keep their children safe, and the family has shown that the trial visit was positive, the court will order that the children be officially and legally reunified with the parents. After reunification, DCFS may keep the case open for a while. Our goal is to make sure that the children are safe and the family has what it needs to continue to move forward on a positive path. During this time, we may continue to provide services – sometimes referred to as in-home, protective, or post-reunification services – to help the family. This might include consistent monitoring and community-based services such as child care or counseling. These services are intended to support the family and help maintain the progress made. Normally, the case will close after the family has shown for a sufficient amount of time that it can maintain the children’s safety and has displayed an overall ability to move forward on its own.
Parents may also consider using their experience to help others. The support, guidance, and encouragement from someone who has been through the process could make a world of difference. In that role, parents can encourage others and show them, “If I can do it, you can too!”
(Reproduced in part from Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Reunification: Bringing Your Children Home From Foster Care” fact sheet, May 2016. Available online at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reunification/.)
Mental Health Month Perspectives
Posted Date: 05/30/2017 By: Marsha Smith and Dalinda Green, Licensed Social Workers at Arkansas Health Center
As part of National Mental Health Awareness Month observed each year in May, DHS employees who work with people who have mental health issues were asked to share their stories.
By Marsha Smith, LSW, Arkansas Health Center
Although planning to teach French and Speech for secondary education students, I found myself drawn to a career working with people with mental illness when I landed a summer job in 1969 working at what is now the Arkansas Health Center where my mother and aunt also worked. I was drawn to the compassionate helpfulness of social workers, and on the advice of then Social Work Director Herman Harley, I took some social work courses and landed a full-time social service worker position with the center upon my college graduation in the early 1970s.
My natural predilection to advocate for persons with disabilities emerged, and I found my true calling in righting wrongs, crusading, (though sometimes blundering), in the battle for the rights of the disenfranchised. I served as the DHS Client Advocate from 1997 until 2003 and went back to the center in 2005. Working with psychiatrists, primary care physicians, and other behavioral health experts, it has been a joy to assist people in meeting their goals to develop the skills, behavioral control, and medication management necessary to succeed in living in the community or other settings less structured than institutions. The experience and multiple training opportunities also better equipped me to cope with mental health and substance abuse issues in my own family.
Those of us who are not challenged with acute mental health issues cannot fully appreciate the strife, stigmas, and obstacles encountered by those with mental health diseases, or the families who try to help and support them. The stigma people with severe mental illness face is much the same as that faced by others who deal with prejudice and racism. They are often devalued, ridiculed, demeaned and considered unintelligent. While medical conditions are accepted, mental health issues are often considered shameful. Regrettably, society has often chosen to avoid dealing with things it does not understand.
Substance abuse also often accompanies mental illness and is often misperceived by the public as matters of choice, rather than disease. The societal de-valuing of people with mental illness results in a high incidence of poverty, poor medication management of the symptoms of mental illness leading to other complications, and often homelessness or prison. People with Bi-polar disorder struggle with mood swings from mania to severe depression; and untreated depression can lead to suicide.
People need to understand that most mental illness is treatable and manageable with proper medication, therapy, and solid support systems. Mental illness is not indicative of lesser intelligence - people with mental illness often have normal to high IQ’s, and some are quite gifted in academia and/or fine arts. Although no cure currently exists, research has resulted in a new generation of medications that are more successful in managing symptoms of mental illness and allowing many to successfully work alongside us in the workplace and successfully live in the community.
There are various grass roots, state, and national organizations of people who advocate for those with mental illness. A Suicide Prevention Walk is held in Little Rock annually. Per the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five Americans live with a mental health condition, and everyone is affected or impacted by mental illness through friends and family.
Although social work with the mentally ill can be emotionally exhausting at times, it is also immensely rewarding to see positive changes in someone’s life and to help people realize their full potential.
By Dalinda Green, LSW, Arkansas Health Center
Working in behavioral health is incredibly rewarding and allows you to make a direct impact on the lives of others. The field offers various specializations and opportunities to work with different populations giving you the chance to help people as well as put you on the path of a rewarding career. Healthcare is a growing industry, and whether you have a high school diploma or a medical degree, there are many different positions to choose from. There will always be people that need the assistance of others, and helping people in the difficult times of their lives is what makes working in behavioral health so fulfilling.
A career in behavioral health allows you the chance to significantly improve lives and possibly make a difference in their life quality. It is very rewarding to help those in need to identify their own strengths and encourage them to use those strengths in their daily lives. Providing them with support, compassion and hope can help them to overcome behavioral or emotional problems and add value to their lives. Even the smallest, positive connection with another person can significantly improve their outlook and happiness, and is a very worthwhile and satisfying effort for anyone
working in behavioral health.
The behavioral health field allows you to be a part of a team with many available resources and the opportunity to learn new skills on a regular basis. Everyone on the team has a specific role in taking care of each person served, and together you make things work to best benefit that person. In addition, since every person you serve has different needs, you experience new challenges every day, and your days are never repetitive.
It is an extremely rewarding privilege to work in behavioral health, because you see firsthand how your time and commitment can inspire others and improve lives. Witnessing the positive change and growth of those you serve provides an inspiring and humbling feeling that transcends into your own life.
“There is no better feeling than to provide relief from suffering through understanding.” Elizabeth Singer, Licensed Psychoanalyst
National Foster Care Month Is So Very Important
Posted Date: 05/19/2017 By: Tiffany Wright, DCFS Foster Care Manager
Someone asked me why National Foster Care Month is so important to me, well, not just me because so many people are impacted by those words “foster care.” It has been important to me since I started this journey one day in early November 2009, and that day my life changed forever. My first day on the job as a Family Service Worker (FSW), the position that is on the frontlines of protecting children and helping families, I shadowed a seasoned worker as she removed a 1-year-old from her mother due to the mother’s dangerous drug use. I didn’t initially comprehend the magnitude of what had just happened. (Remember I am fresh out of college, new to Arkansas, green, green, green and never even knew this child welfare world existed.) I spent that night reflecting on mainly the ugly parts of the day – holding this filthy little girl who was crying and reaching for her mom, asking her mom for clothing/diapers and she refused, and feeling stressed for the mother, because I was new and neither of us knew what was going to happen next. I also thought about the worker’s struggle to find a foster home for that this young child. I remember the worker I shadowed said, “The relationships you have with foster parents will make this part of the job either really hard or really easy.”
As a new worker, I didn’t really understand how profound that statement was, but time made it truer than ever. I spent six and half years in White County as a FSW only working foster care cases, and my foster parents were my biggest fans - as I was theirs. We worked as a team. We supported each other, and they worked hard to support me. One foster family would take children in the middle of the night without hesitation or complaint. Another always made my evening home visits around dinner time. The husband and wife would invite me for dinner, which allowed me to share a traditional meal at a table with the entire family. And they always sent me away with leftovers. Of course, foster parents and I had disagreements and would sometimes have to “agree to disagree,” but it didn’t damage the relationship we had, because a mutual respect was held for the investment in the children and families that we were working hard to serve. They knew how much I cared about the children and the families that I served and that decisions always were made with the best interest of the children in mind. Sometimes, the decisions I made didn’t end as I had hoped, and sometimes I had to call my foster families so the children could go back to their home because of that decision. Even so, we maintained a mutual respect, and the foster parents in White County became my support system. I counted on them as much as they counted on me.
So I was thrilled to come to Central Office last May with one of my main goals being supporting foster families. Supporting foster parents is a crucial part of the job of the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and the entire team is working hard to make impactful changes that support foster families. We realize that we cannot do anything without their support, and that we need to do everything we can to make their roles easier. It has been a busy year for me and the rest of the team working toward that vision. We have been working hard on the Foster and Adoptive Provider Portal, which is a wealth of resources for foster parents focused on the children placed in their home. We also have rolled out a mass text messaging option for placement needs. And this week, we held our first luncheon to celebrate foster parents of the year. I felt so honored sitting in the room with these foster parents and listening to their stories of triumph! I am personally challenging all of my DCFS team to continue to wrap their arms around each foster parent in their community. Go the extra mile – even when you are frustrated, tired or burned out – to say thank you again. It makes a world of difference.
Walk for the Waiting 2017, a fundraiser for Project Zero, Immerse Arkansas and The CALL.
A Foster Mom’s Reflections on Mother’s Day
Posted Date: 05/12/2017 By:
Foster mom and former DCFS employee
The other night after our older two boys were in bed, I was in the rocking chair feeding my newborn while my husband was snuggled up on the bed with our two-year-old who wasn’t feeling well. He looked over at me and said, “Gosh, how did we get here?” I knew right away he was referring to us being parents of four children when it seemed like only yesterday we were a young, married couple with no children (and lots of free time). My initial snarky reply was, “Do we need to discuss where babies come from?” But seriously, I began thinking back on being a mom over the past five years.
My “mom journey” has been anything but ordinary. We opened as a foster home in February 2012 and in a few months went from having zero children to three. Over the next four years, we welcomed 10 more foster children into our home. We ultimately said goodbye to 11 of those children. The first three moved to a more specialized foster home, some went back to their parents, some went to relatives and some were adopted. And the remaining two children officially became our sons when their adoption was finalized in 2015. I also became a mom in 2014 when our daughter was born, and again just a few weeks ago when our son was born.
In sum, I have been mom to 15 children in five years’ time. The kids have ranged in age from newborn to 11 years. They have been boys and girls, black and white. Some stayed only a couple weeks while others stayed several months to more than a year. And, of course, four will be ours for a lifetime. Some were easy while others were extremely challenging. Some made great progress while living with us. Others had needs we were not equipped to handle. There are a few with whom I remain in contact and am joyful to know they continue to do well. However, I will likely never see or hear from the many of them again. And that’s ok. Being a foster mom means – as another foster parent coined it – being a “middle mom.” You are mom until they return to their biological parents, are placed with relatives or are adopted by a new family. One of my happiest moments as a foster mom was seeing one of my kiddos find her forever family. Another was seeing a biological dad gain custody of his daughter. In both of those cases, the children came to us in very poor health with extremely complex needs. Both left having made great progress!
There is also a sad part to being a foster mom, and that is knowing that some children will never have a relationship with their biological mom again (or at least until they are grown and decide to seek out their bio family). Seven of the children we fostered no longer have a relationship with their biological parents, because of termination of parental rights (TPR). While four of those children were adopted, including two by us, it does not mean their trauma was erased or that having a new parent somehow erases their bio parent. I know that to be true from my experience with my adopted sons. While their mother was unable to care for them due to serious mental health issues, I still have compassion for her. I know she loved her boys. She was just not capable of keeping them safe or meeting their needs.
Please note that every child enters foster care from a unique situation. Some may have experienced so much trauma with their bio family they never want to return home. I have seen this with a couple of my foster children, but most of the time, children do miss their parents. And every child loses a part of themselves and their story when TPR occurs.
So this Mother’s Day, while we celebrate moms (be they foster, adoptive or biological), let’s not forget the moms who have lost their children and for whom the day is not so joyous. And for those of us who have adopted, let’s be aware this may be a hard day for our children who have lost a mom even if they don’t verbalize it.
Editor's Note: The Division of Children and Family Services is responsible for safety of children and youth in Arkansas. The division provides for protection plans, foster care and adoption services for children. For more information, visit FosterArkansas.org. Chantel and her husband are pictured below with their two adopted sons and biological daughter. This photo was taken before the arrival of their newborn son.
Norwood appreciates the mission of DHS
Posted Date: 03/22/2018 By: Sara Norwood
When reflecting on my life, I can’t help but smile. I want to help others experience the same kind of happiness. That’s why I enjoy being a member of the Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.
My name is Sara Norwood. I’m a Program Manager for the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education (DCCECE). My job focuses on supporting every unit in the division and our director, Tonya Williams. Our division interacts with and supports children, their families, child care providers, and organizations who work with children. Everything we do is a big deal and nothing can be overlooked. That’s why I have such a wide variety of job duties. But through prioritizing, good planning, having the proper perspective, and being able to quickly adapt and adjust, I’m able to handle the job.
My passion for protecting children also helps me complete my responsibilities. I’m emotionally attached to the mission of our division. The goal of DCCECE is to ensure that all Arkansas children and families have access to a safe, high-quality, developmentally appropriate, nurturing, learning environment by educating and assisting parents, child care providers, and communities to prepare our children for future success. As a mother, that’s something I hold in high regard.
My husband and I are proud parents of two boys. A 10-year-old who lives with his mom in Fort Smith and a six-year-old who lives in the household and was once in Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy due to developmental delays. He was almost completely non-verbal up until the age of three. Now he talks more than we could’ve ever imagined and we love every bit of our son’s chatter.
In fact, he tested out of speech therapy last month. We as a family are so proud of him. Also, we’re extremely appreciative of every speech therapist who worked with him.
My husband and I make a decent living, but we don’t have enough to cover the cost of all our son’s therapy sessions. Thankfully, our family qualifies for TEFRA – which is a DHS program. TEFRA gives families with children who have disabilities medical assistance and allows the parents to pay on a sliding fee scale, which makes the costs more manageable.
DHS has helped my family so much, I rave to others about what the agency can also do for them. In fact, I have a cousin whose son has a developmental disability. She moved from Tennessee to Arkansas because I constantly praised the outstanding health care options this state has for youth with special needs.
It makes me so happy that my cousin’s son now has the help he needs.
I love helping people. I admire organizations that aim to improve the livelihood of people in need. I simply want to see everyone happy and with a chance to succeed in life. I’ve had that characteristic for as long as I can remember.
I’m an optimistic person who’s heavily influenced by a close family structure. For most of my childhood, I lived in Bartlett, Tennessee, a town located north of Memphis. I have great memories of my time in Tennessee, most of which involve my family. We were always around one another, including grandparents and cousins. But in 2000, in the middle of my teenage years, my family moved to Arkansas. I was in a new setting, but I adapted. I graduated from Sylvan Hills High School in 2002.
As for college, I am an alumna of the University of Arkansas, Walton College of Business. I graduated in 2006. While at Arkansas, I was fortunate to be a part of the Lady Razorback cheerleading squad. I sing Rocky Top – “Go Vols” and I Call the Hogs – “Woo Pig.” Positive vibes only, a person can do both.
Overall, my life is great, and I’m blessed. It’s only appropriate that I help others, both personally and professionally. It’s important to me that I try to give people a reason to experience joy and excitement in life.