State announces new effort to recruit foster families
LITTLE ROCK – State government and a host of private organizations announced a new effort to recruit more foster families, streamline the process of placing foster children with relatives and accelerating the process for the permanent adoption of children.
The governor issued an executive order directing the Division of Children and Family Services to work with a list of more than two dozen organizations that recruit and train foster families.
In January the state had about 4,100 children in foster care but only 1,600 homes available for placement.
Three state agencies will work with a new group of organizations called Every Child Arkansas, with the goal of lowering the number of children in foster care. At the same time they will recruit more foster families so that placements are more suited to children and not driven by necessity. For example, it’s better for children to always be in a home with siblings.
Another goal is to increase the percentage of children placed with their biological families after getting out of foster care. That will require more effective services for biological parents, such as quickly getting them help with drug abuse or mental health treatment.
The executive order directs state agencies to better train foster parents and to improve retention rates of foster families.
The order directs agencies to streamline the process of placing foster children with relatives, and to streamline the process of allowing relatives to permanently adopt children in the foster care system.
Last year 196 children in foster care “aged out” of the system, which means they turned 18. The governor pointed out in her executive order that those young adults are more likely to be homeless, to be victims of human trafficking and to end up in prison.
By June 30, the state Human Services Department must have a list of recommended strategies for helping young adults who age out of foster care.
Within a year each of the 75 counties in Arkansas should have at least one advocate to help people become foster parents. The advocates will not only recruit new foster families but help them with support services after they officially become foster parents. The advocate will not be a state employee. The advocate will also help people through the adoption process.
The executive order also takes steps to better use technology and social media for recruiting, training and supporting foster families. There is a new website you can visit to learn more about becoming a foster parent, at this address: everychildarkansas.org
In other news, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation that allows victims of human trafficking to file lawsuits in civil court against their abusers. It includes civil suits against people who should have known that trafficking was occurring, such as hotel owners. The legislation is Senate Bill 282.
The House passed and sent to the Senate legislation that sets criminal penalties and fines for drivers of motor vehicles who cause a wreck because they were on their cell phones. It is House Bill 1486, but is also called “Ashton’s Law” in honor of Ashton Rae Woods. She was killed last year in a wreck caused by a distracted driver in Stone County.