Often times, it takes years to see the full impact on legislation we pass.
But then there are times, like this week, that we see how just a few changes in the law can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children in a matter of weeks.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services just issued a report on the current state of foster care. The report is called Renewed Hope. In the report it shows in the last year alone, the number of overdue investigations has gone from 721 to 51. In addition:
· 82.1 percent of children in foster care have been placed in family-like settings. That is up from 77.6 percent in August, 2016.
· The number of foster families in the state has increased from 1,579 in August 2016 to 1,821 today.
· 28.8 percent of all children in foster care have been placed with relatives. That is up from 23.4 percent in August 2016.
Increasing the placement of foster care children with relatives was the result of a partnership of legislators and DHS.
Act 1116, passed this year, strengthened language in existing law identifying and vetting non-custodial parents and relatives as soon as the child is taken into foster care. This law helped to increase the sense of urgency to look for appropriate relatives. Act 1116 also clarifies that relatives receive preferential consideration for placement at all stages of a child welfare case, provided all relevant child welfare protection standards are met and such placement is in the child’s best interest.
Additionally, we passed Act 700 which expands the definition of fictive kin by including someone who played a positive role in the parent’s life, provided the child in foster care is an infant and the DCFS Director approves.
Legislation passed this year also helped to strengthen the workforce charged with the care of our foster children. The biggest change for the workforce has been the new state employee pay plan, which went into effect July 1, 2017. This increased the starting salary for family service workers and supervisors in an effort to reduce turnover.
There is still work to do. New goals for DHS include increasing the number of foster families to 2,000 and increase the percentage of children placed with relatives to 33 percent.
While we will continue to explore how changes in the law can provide more stable homes, this is an area where all of us can help make a difference. If you can help provide a home, visit www.humanservices.arkansas.gov to find out more.