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Date Posted: 10/24/2018
DHS Made Significant Progress Stabilizing System as Part of Year-Long Effort, Still Work to Do
Third phase of work will continue and sharpen focus on strengthening families, improving foster care, and supporting the workforce
Two years ago, Arkansas embarked on an aggressive but strategic plan to tackle a growing crisis in its child welfare and foster care system. In November 2016, the DHS Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) released a report called Moving Beyond Crisis, along with the ten key steps to a stronger system identified by child welfare expert Paul Vincent, as its Phase One response to the crisis.
In September 2017, the agency signaled the start of Phase Two of its efforts to improve the child welfare system with the release of the Renewed Hope report. Renewed Hope focused on three key areas of improvement: (1) Strengthening families so children can remain safely at home and families are more resilient, (2) Improving the foster care system so that it is stable for those who need it, and (3) Building, supporting, and empowering a strong DCFS workforce.
Though not all goals have been attained, the heavy-lifting done in Phase One and Phase Two has shored up the weakest areas of the system, creating a stronger foundation on which the next phase of work will be done. The new report, Foundation for the Future, is where DCFS begins Phase Three with a continued focus on strengthening families, improving foster care, and supporting the workforce. Why? Because we know that at the core of a strong child welfare system are resilient and supported families and workers. We owe it to the children and families we serve to build upon the successes and learn from the struggles of the last two years so that the child welfare system in Arkansas has a strong foundation for the future.
DHS Director Cindy Gillespie is confident that the steps taken over the past two years to address the system issues have laid a solid foundation for continued improvements. “Phase One of the effort to improve Arkansas’s child welfare system was largely successful at stabilizing the system and preventing a breakdown of the system,” she noted. “Phase Two built upon those efforts and focused on putting initiatives, programs, and practices in place to ensure that the system and the people within and around it were stronger, stable, supported, and empowered to make smarter, more effective decisions. That work built the foundation for Phase Three and the future of child welfare in Arkansas. This solid footing, grounded in a continued emphasis on safety, permanency, and well-being for the children and families served, will allow us to push forward with programs and partnerships that have shown success. It also allows us to try new initiatives that hold real promise for the future.”
Since starting the reform efforts in 2016, significant progress has been made in a number of key areas and outcomes:
- The average caseload for a frontline worker decreased from 28 cases in 2016 to 20, a remarkable decline that Paul Vincent estimated would take three years, not two.
- The number of overdue child maltreatment investigations is down from 721 in 2016 to 94 today.
- The number of children in foster care in Arkansas dropped from 5,196 in late 2016 to 4,471 today, a 14-percent decline and the lowest since the crisis response began.
- The percentage of children who are placed with relatives is up from 23 percent in 2016 to 27 percent today (with over 37 percent of provisional placements made on the same day the child is removed).
- The percentage of children placed in family-like settings is up from 78 percent in 2016 to 82 percent today.
- The ratio of foster home beds to children in care is up from 0.69 in 2016 to 0.82 today.
Moving forward, there is still much work to be done to reach the goals that have been set, but DCFS Director Mischa Martin is excited about the future. “With the continued support of the Governor, the Legislature, and community partners, as well as the amazing dedication and passion of our frontline and support staff,” she said, “we are poised to make a real difference in the lives of the people we serve every day for years to come.”
To see a full copy of the report, click here: https://humanservices.arkansas.gov/images/uploads/newsroom/FoundationForTheFuture_2018_Final_10.23.18.pdf