When I think about foster care in Arkansas, there is one number that always comes to mind: 30.
That’s the percent of kids in Arkansas’s foster care system who are placed in four or more different foster care settings. In other words, nearly one in three kids in foster care in Arkansas have been shuffled from home to home to home.
Think back to when you were a kid; imagine what it would be like to be tossed back and forth like a couch pillow. Think about how it would impact your psyche. Your self-esteem. Your sense of security.
This is just one symptom of Arkansas’s foster care crisis which has revealed itself in everything from being shuffled to different homes to children sleeping in DHS offices because of the system being overloaded.
(And by the way, this is not an isolated incident–kids regularly are forced to sleep in Arkansas government office buildings because of how broken the system is.)
Put simply, foster care is a trap for Arkansas kids. It is a system with little prospect for escape, and no light at the end of the tunnel. Kids will wait years to find the right home, all while enduring the challenges that any child would face in their situation.
They’re thrown into welfare. They are far more likely to end up a lifetime of poverty, homelessness, and even prison. We might think we are “helping” kids by moving them into the system, but most of the time, we aren’t.
But there is at least some good news: it doesn’t have to be this way.
We can set Arkansas’s foster care system on a positive path. All we need is the political will to do so.
The State of Arkansas places harsh restrictions on the abilities of parents to get their parental rights reinstated, and splits families up based on a parents’ emotional disability. Rather than getting parents the help they need, the state takes away their children. We need to better enshrine parental rights in Arkansas’s statutes.
Currently, judges are only required to consider a child’s “health and well being” when deciding to remove them from their family. No doubt these are important factors.
But what about the importance of family integrity? What about considering the likelihood that kids stay independent and don’t fall into lifetimes of dependency if they go into the foster system?
Other states around us consider these things; Arkansas doesn’t.
If the courts and caseworkers were simply required to ask “Does removing the child from the home cause more trauma then leaving them?,” Arkansas's foster care system would be in a very different situation.
The legislature should help guide the courts to more adequately consider the importance of family integrity when making decisions about placement and parental rights.
Today, Arkansas has some of the strictest foster care training requirements in the region, which can deter families from signing up. It even forces relatives who want to offer foster care--like grandparents--to jump through the same red tape and regulatory hurdles as if they were strangers to the child.
By reforming the foster family training requirements, we can ensure kids aren’t left to sleep on the cold floors of bureaucrat offices, and instead have a warm home to look forward to.
A brighter future for Arkansas’s kids is in reach. But it is long past time for Arkansas policymakers to act to make it happen. Let’s get it done–for the next generation.
To read more about our ideas to solve Arkansas’s foster care crisis, check out our 2023 Roadmap to Opportunity.