Legislators and others brought hundreds of gifts for foster children to the Capitol’s Old Supreme Courtroom Thursday (Dec. 17) in a first ever event the project’s creator, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, called “Christmas in the Capitol.”
Irvin said she came up with the idea about three weeks ago driving home to Mountain View. She said the event drew gifts from the History Commission, the Department of Finance and Administration, the Arkansas State Employees Association, lobbyists and others. Lake Catherine State Park employees brought four boxes of gifts. Gov. Asa Hutchinson brought a basketball.
“It’s really about showing that these children that are in the foster care situations, they’re Arkansas’ children, and we’re the leaders that have been elected to lead Arkansas, and so we need to show an example of how that looks,” she said.
Among those in attendance was Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, his wife, Naomi, and two of the three brothers under age 4 they adopted Nov. 30. Meeks said the brothers had lived in their home since August 2014 as foster children. Meanwhile, the Meeks family is fostering two other children.
Meeks said he began the process of fostering in late 2013 after serving on the Aging, Children and Youth Committee and hearing about children in foster care and needing adopted.
Earlier this year, a report commissioned by the state found that Arkansas had one caseworker for every 29 foster children, compared to the national standard of 1:15. The report by Paul Vincent, director of The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, found that the state has a third less foster homes than needed. In two months this spring, the state’s foster care population mushroomed from 3,800 to 4,300. Many children are forced to stay in homes outside their home counties, and the state has a low rate of placing children with relatives.
This summer, Hutchinson dedicated $1 million in rainy day funds toward hiring more caseworkers at the Division of Children and Family Services. He also hosted a faith-based summit to encourage people to be foster parents and to adopt.
He told reporters Thursday that regarding the foster care system, “So much of it is just an overstretched system, and we’re putting more money into it because it is our children. We’re putting more caseworkers into it. We’ve got more to do.”