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Governor Announces Bid for Private Contractor for Youth Treatment Centers and Independent Review


August 14, 2017


Media Contact:
Amy Webb, DHS Chief of Communications and Community Engagement
Arkansas Department of Human Services
501-682-8946 or


Governor Hutchinson Announces Bid for Private Contractor for Youth Treatment Centers and
Independent Review of Division Operations; Accepts Recommendations of DHS Review

At the Direction of the Governor, the Department has worked to assess 
and improve core services at seven centers it took over in January

On Jan. 1, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson directed the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS) to take over the day-to-day operations of seven of the state’s eight residential treatment centers for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

After spending months assessing and improving core services at these seven juvenile treatment centers, the DHS is recommending to Governor Hutchinson that the State seek a private operator to take over next year. 

“The takeover of facilities that had been run by private contractors for two decades gave us an unexpected opportunity to take a deep look at the behavioral health and educational services being provided to our youth and to look at how well families were engaging with their teens in custody,” said DHS Division of Youth Services Director Betty Guhman. “When these three things are done well, youth have a better chance of successfully being rehabilitated and reintegrating in their home communities so we wanted to make sure we were doing them right.”

Though DHS found many positives, including experienced staff, the condition of the physical plant, and access to local resources and community support; the areas noted above needed to be strengthened. As a result of the review, the agency:

  • Contracted with Community Mental Health Centers to provide a broad array of individual and group mental health and substance abuse treatment services at each regional juvenile treatment center. The Community Mental Health Centers now have a therapist with an office on each campus and the work done for the youth is supported by a psychiatrist via telemedicine.
  • Partnered with Virtual Arkansas to provide standardized curriculum used by public school systems that youth can work at their own pace with the help of online teachers and in-person educational coaches. Virtual Arkansas also provides youth with access to dual credit and coding classes, and eliminates concerns about teacher shortages at the centers’ schools. 
  • Repurposed position to support family engagement, created new family activities and encouraging team approach to treatment that includes families. 

As DHS has undergone a large transformation, leadership also recognized that DYS has historically had an overreliance on State General Revenue, and because of that overreliance, it did not have the flexibility to increase services and confinement alternatives when commitment numbers increased. Some services that have been funded by State General Revenue could be provided through Medicaid providers, thus freeing state dollars to be used for innovations and community-based alternatives that will place youth in the least restrictive setting possible while maintaining public safety. So the DHS Division of Medical Services has retained a Medicaid consulting firm to identify and develop a plan for DHS to maximize Medicaid funding opportunities related to services offered through DYS. 

DYS also is in the process of releasing nearly $2 million in Innovation Funds grants that require organizations and judges to work together to create an innovative and individualized proposal to provide alternatives to confinement for youth in their respective judicial districts. 

"Now that we’ve built a stronger foundation for the centers and learned a great deal about the day-to-day operations, we believe it is appropriate to seek competitive bids from private organizations to assume management of the centers,” said DHS Deputy Director Keesa Smith, who oversees DYS and four other divisions. “As we begin that lengthy procurement process, we at DHS also will continue to improve the Division and the centers because there is more work to do.”

On Monday, DHS made several recommendations to the Governor regarding continued efforts to improve the Division and centers, which he accepted. They are:

  • Issuing a solicitation for proviate operation of the centers, with transition to private operations to occure in July 2018.
  • A security audit of all seven centers that will identify security weaknesses and ways to address those, prior to completion of the solicitation. This will be overseen by the new DHS Chief of Security, Brian Marr, who recently left the U.S. Secret Service after more than two decades of service.  Upon completion of this review, Chief Marr will conduct a similar review of the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Saline County.
  • Incorporating the results of the Medicaid funding study and plan into the solicitation for the centers and into the solicitation for community-based services, in order to address the reliance of DYS operations on state general revenue. This study will be completed in September of 2017.
  • An independent review of the role and work of the Division of Youth Services, similar to the review conducted by child welfare expert Paul Vincent in 2015 for the DHS Division of Children and Family Services.  



Link to DYS Action Plan August 2017

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