Arkansas should expand intensive home and community-based health services and develop a plan to reduce caseloads to address a rising foster care population and a high rate of child maltreatments.
Those were some of the findings of a report studying the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) conducted by Paul Vincent, director of The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group. The report was to be presented Thursday morning (July 16) by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who directed its completion in March following news reports that a state legislator, Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, had “re-homed” two of his adopted daughters, one of whom later was abused by the new family.
The study painted a picture of a system that is unable to provide for a rising number of children in foster care. That number is increasing, it said, because while the number of children entering foster care is stable, the number of children leaving it is decreasing. Moreover, the total number has risen dramatically in the past two months, from 3,875 to 4,323.
The state has only 0.66 foster care beds per child, as the number of beds has not grown despite efforts to recruit families. Nineteen percent (19%) of foster children are in non-family settings, and 55% are not placed in their home county. Moreover, the state’s rate of placing children with relatives, 14%, is low compared to other states. From January – April 2015, 22 children spent the night in a DCFS office because there was nowhere else to put them. Some children are shuttled from home to home each night.
Moreover, caseworkers are responsible for 29 cases, nearly double the national standard of 1:15. However, DCFS does better than national standards concerning the length of time children are in foster care. DCFS finalized adoptions for 724 children in 2014 and has reduced average time to adoption from 25.4 months to 22.1 months. The agency is experiencing morale and turnover issues in counties with the greatest burdens.
Arkansas’ rate of 72.9 child maltreatment reports per 1,000 children is higher than the national average of 47.1 and also higher than in surrounding states. Texas’ is 28.2. Child fatalities increased from 23 in 2011 to 40 so far this fiscal year. Arkansas’ child fatality rate of 4.09 per 100,000 children is higher than all states except Oklahoma and West Virginia.
The number of cases assigned to DCFS is 27,800, with 22%, about the national average, found to be substantiated. Those who have a subsequent report within six months is 6%, compared to 5.4% nationally, and is a reduction from 9% in 2012. Nine percent of children receiving in-home supportive services are mistreated within a year, which has fallen from 15% in the previous two years.
DCFS’ conducted a timely initiation of Priority I investigations 86% of the time in 2015, down from 94% in 2011, but the thoroughness of those investigations improved from 58% to 70%. The agency’s rate of caseworkers having face-to-face contact with in-home families over the previous three months had improved from 75.8% to 82.3%, but monthly in-home visits occurred only 66% of the time.
The report recommended the state take 11 courses of action, many of which would not require much funding. Two that would were expanding intensive home and community-based health services, and developing a three-year plan to reduce caseloads.
• Designate a coordinating staff member in the governor’s office;
• Build the agency’s capacity to partner with stakeholders;
• Address the placement shortage;
• Create a task force to address local administrative flexibility;
• Strengthen the relationship between DCFS and the Administrative Office of Courts;
• Expedite the filling of DCFS vacancies;
• Implement a principle-based model of practice; and
• Strengthen assessment and family engagement skills.