“As the chair of the Republican Party of Arkansas, a former member of the Arkansas cabinet, and a previous county judge, my familiarity with the foster care system comes from both personal and judicial experience.
I was adopted at ten years old out of an orphanage in Chicago. The law of Illinois wouldn’t allow me to be given any information related to my birth family, but fifteen years ago, that law changed. I learned that I was a ‘foundling’; I had been abandoned as a baby, discovered, and placed in an orphanage. Although my parents had passed away by the time I learned this, I was able to find the rest of my biological family. I was blessed to be cared for in an orphanage by nuns, but kids in the Arkansas foster care system are involved with a government full of bureaucracy and paperwork.
The process usually starts with an emergency, and the kids are told to quickly pack up. While the parents are in court, the children are searching for a sense of normalcy. It becomes traumatic, and I struggled with this through my teen years, even after I had been adopted.
These children won’t carry the trauma if they’re never introduced to the system in the first place. That should be our priority. We should talk to their extended family to see if anyone has the capacity and ability to care for them. We should set judicial precedents for how we bring a child into the system. I've seen a lot of kids in the courtroom who have extended family but are in foster care anyway. When we make the call to bring someone into the system, it should be because we’ve exhausted all other options. We need to do what’s best for that child.
With almost five thousand kids in the system, we are woefully behind on recruiting foster families. Other states are setting up agreements with each other so that if a family is trained in one state, their training is still valid in another.
We also need to make the adoption process less arduous. The main reason we are lacking enough foster families right now is because it’s hard to grow attached to a child and then have to let them go. Some of these people want to adopt, but they see fostering as a difficult step they must take before they can do so. Because of all the hoops they have to go through, folks will often elect to private adopt or even go overseas, leaving children in Arkansas waiting for families.
The issue is really twofold: 1. We need to stop bringing kids into the system before we’ve exhausted all other options, and 2. We need to honor those who choose to foster children in the system, even though it’s difficult.
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Arkansas has trigger laws that have automatically snapped back into effect. This means we’re going to have more kids in the system and more struggling families looking for help. We need to fix these issues now.
If only one thing is remembered from my story, I want it to be this: Life matters. I’m here because my mother gave me life. And because she did, another family adopted me and gave me a life.
These kids are looking for a second chance. They didn’t choose to be in the system, but they don’t have to stay victims of their bad situations. Because they were given life, we can give them an opportunity to have a life.”
Arkansan, former foster child, foster reform advocate, and Chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas