Mischa Martin, a Department of Human Services attorney who has worked with child welfare cases in Arkansas since 2008, has been named interim director of the Division of Children and Family Services.
The department is seeking a permanent division director to replace outgoing Director Cecile Blucker, who leaves her post at the end of March after seven years on the job. According to a DHS press release, Martin will begin working with Blucker now and becomes interim director April 1.
The department’s new director, Cindy Gillespie, said in the press release she is looking for a new division director who can build on reforms to end generational cycles of abuse, reduce the number of children in the foster care system, and retain good employees.
Martin in 2015 became the Office of Chief Counsel’s deputy counsel of county legal operations, a position where she has managed more than 80 employees statewide. That year, she also became assistant director of the Compliance and Monitoring section of the Department’s Division of Developmental Disabilities Services. In that position, she has overseen the state’s five Human Development Centers and has managed the division’s Quality Assurance, Licensure, Policy, and Information Technology sections.
Martin came to work at DHS in 2008, became assistant deputy counsel in 2013, and became an attorney supervisor in 2014 in the Office of Chief Counsel.
She will lead a division that serves some of the state’s most vulnerable residents – abused children, those in foster care, and those in need of adoption.
The division was a subject of controversy in 2015 after Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, “rehomed” his adopted daughters with a man who later sexually assaulted one of them. Harris claimed he had been pressured by a DCFS staff member not to return the girls to DCFS supervision, a charge Blucker could not publicly answer because of privacy protections.
In response to the controversy, Hutchinson ordered a review of the system. In July, Paul Vincent, director of The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, released a report saying the system was unable to provide for a rising number of children in foster care that had reached 4,323.
Last summer, Hutchinson organized a faith-based summit to call on houses of worship to help address the state’s foster care needs. In December, he said the state’s number of foster homes had increased by 109 to 1,385 and that the backlog in contacting interested foster care applicants had been eliminated.
However, on Tuesday, Amy Webb, DHS spokesperson, said the number of children in foster care has risen to more than 4,700. She said the number of foster children is increasing while the number of children leaving care has decreased. More families are inquiring about being foster parents, but foster homes are lost when foster families adopt children and then leave the system, she said.