Arkansas seeks to add foster care workers, families

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 233 views 

The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) for Area II, which includes Crawford and Sebastian Counties, has launched a campaign to add 10 new family service worker (FSW) positions (3 in Crawford, 7 in Sebastian).

Area II Director Lisa Jensen said in a July 9 interview with The City Wire that efforts are ongoing and resumes are being accepted at the Arkansas State Jobs website.

“When we have our full staff, we’ll have 18 FSWs (in Sebastian County). Then, we’ll be working with specialized training to get our new candidates ready to start at the same time.”

Retention, Jensen added, has been a problem in the past. “It’s the nature of the job. These are really good workers (that we have). People that really care. But there is no way they can do what is expected of them with their current workloads.”

Sebastian County currently employs 11 FSWs, who are responsible for managing cases for the 541 children in its foster care system.

“Take an average of about three kids per foster home, and we can probably house about 195 of our 541 kids here locally in Sebastian County. That number would be about 330 in Sebastian and Crawford Counties combined,” Jensen said.

Sebastian County FSWs must work within these limitations to assist in the provision of care for the overage through the use of shelters and out-of-area placements, with some children housed as far away as West Memphis, approximately 280 miles removed from their homes.

Once Sebastian County DCFS is fully staffed, the case load for FSWs will fall from around 49 children per worker to 30, greatly improving the ability of DCFS to do its job, Jensen said.

While the shortage of foster care homes is difficult for Jensen and Sebastian County DCFS supervisor Bobbie Newsom to accept, it is an improvement from 2011 when a Hornby Zeller Associates, Inc., report found that 604 children were part of the county’s foster care system with “barely one foster home in the county for every ten foster children and one foster home bed for every four children in care.”

Newsom added that one major goal of her department for 2013 is to increase the number of “provisional foster care homes and relative placements.”

The requirements for “blood relatives are less,” Newsom said. “While the standards are the same, we’re able to more easily find waivers for alternative compliance. There is a little more leniency. It gets the children out of an unrelated home and to a relative faster. We can set up a provisional home within a week or two, while it could take months for someone else to go through the process.”

Newsom continued: “You can’t remove a child from a home and not create trauma.”

Sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect are some of the primary drivers for the large Sebastian County foster child numbers, Newsom said, “but it’s not just that. The child’s emotional needs are not being met, and those are scars you can’t see that could be with them for the rest of their lives.”

With recent citizen- and church-led efforts to grow awareness for abused and neglected children, such as Step Up, Speak Out and C.A.L.L. (Children of Arkansas, Loved for a Lifetime), the foster home shortage issue hasn’t grown any worse, “but we don’t seem to be gaining either,” Newsom said.

In all, Area II has 155 foster homes including 65 in Sebastian County, 45 in Crawford County, 17 in Johnson County, 13 in Franklin County, 6 in Scott County, 5 in Logan County, and 4 in Yell County.