When a child is placed into the foster care system, it is often moved far away from its home. Rep. Scott Baltz, D-Pocahontas, thinks a layer of state bureaucracy needs to be removed in the Department of Human Services to change that reality.
It’s not uncommon for a foster home in the same town to not be immediately be available. Baltz is formulating a house bill that would allow for “emergency foster shelter homes,” where children could be placed temporarily.
“For me it’s just good, common sense. These kids are already going through enough trauma with their parents,” he said. “They shouldn’t be uprooted out of their school and have to go make new friends at a time like that, and then they return in a month or two and have to explain to everyone what happened.”
These shelter homes could be run by non-profit organizations or individuals. Those organizations and individuals would still have to go through the same background checks and rigors foster parents must go through to be certified. The difference would be how they’re paid.
Temporary shelters, such as The Children’s Shelter based in Walnut Ridge, must have a contract with the state to receive monetary compensation, Baltz said. Getting a contract can be a long process. His bill would allow these individuals and organizations to be paid without the contract, he said.
“If they can meet all the state’s mandated foster care requirements, and if they are willing to shelter these kids, they should get paid,” he said.
There are many residents who would like to help children in this situation, but they don’t want to be full-time foster parents, he said. A cache of shelter homes in a community would allow foster kids to stay in the same community, and it won’t cost the state more money, he said. No matter where the child ends up, someone is getting paid, he said. And this may cut down on travel costs associated with the foster care system, so it could save money, he added.
Baltz hasn’t determined how long a child may stay in such a shelter. Usually within 30-60 days a judge will allow a foster child to be placed with a suitable relative, he said. Baltz wasn’t sure when he would have a final bill to submit.
Another bill he’s already submitted has hit some potential stumbling blocks. House Bill 1433 would prevent level 3 and level 4 sex offenders from living near any facility that houses those with mental or physical disabilities. The Doni Martin Center in his hometown of Pocahontas is an example of the types of facility he’s concerned about.
DHS officials have told Baltz the bill might not be tenable as it is written. Many sex offenders in these designations require significant mental rehabilitative services, and some even live in the facilities described in the bill.
One possible way would be to just specifically designate the Doni Martin Center in the legislation, and it alone would be covered. Baltz said he’s not sure if that’s a realistic possibility.
Another option would be for individual towns and cities to designate areas around the facilities as city parks. State law already prohibits sex offenders in these classes from living within 2,000 feet from parks, he said. Baltz said he hasn’t given up on legislation, but it will likely have to be amended and resubmitted.