When disaster strikes, Arkansans respond in big ways. In my weekly address last week, I commended the folks who rushed to northeast Arkansas after the spring storms and to south Texas after Harvey. And no doubt, a fair number of Arkansans will show up in south Florida if Hurricane Irma ravages the state as the forecasters are predicting.
In my time as governor, I have become painfully aware of a devastation of another sort – the wreckage of families and the innocent children who end up in the state’s child-welfare system.
In the same way that I have witnessed the rush to assist during natural disasters, I have watched with admiration as our fellow Arkansans have rushed to aid these kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the care of strangers.
In an effort to aid those children, we have held two statewide Restore Hope summits. At the second summit that just wrapped up this afternoon, I met hundreds of people who devote their lives and give their hearts to these children hoping for a better chance at a good and safe life.
At the time I took office, I talked with a lot of people who already were in the trenches doing good work. Many suggested ways we could improve what we were doing and proposed ways we could do more.
I am happy to report some dramatic improvements as state agencies partnered with members of the faith community and with nonprofits.
One of the first things we needed to accomplish was to increase the number of foster families. Since August 2015, the number of foster homes has increased from 1,300 to 1,800 – a big difference.
We have slowed the growth of the number of children in foster care. Based on our best information, we had predicted there would be 5,800 foster kids by August of this year, but we kept the actual total to 5,100.
We needed more money for caseworkers, so I asked the General Assembly for $24 million to hire more caseworkers to help our children. Your legislators approved the request with bipartisan enthusiasm. The load for our caseworkers has dropped from 28 cases each to 22 cases, and we’re continuing our efforts to lower that number still to meet national standards.
We have cut the number of overdue investigations from 721 to 51. That is significant. Think about what that means. We have greatly reduced the number of children who are in imminent danger through neglect or violence.
We have placed 29 percent of all children with relatives, which is a six percent improvement.
When the faith and nonprofit communities get involved, we can minister to the heart of a person, and when you minister to the heart – whether it’s an innocent child or an adult looking for a second chance, you change lives.
Arkansans show compassion in difficult times, and for that reason, I am honored to be your governor.