Helping foster kids with a better path

by Gov. Asa Hutchinson ([email protected]) 183 views 

guest commentary from the office of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Jarvis Hale, a Division of Children and Family Services Investigator who’s been on the job for nearly two years, recently shared a heartbreaking story. One evening, not long ago, he was called to a home by law enforcement who had found a toddler walking alone down a street. When Jarvis arrived at the home of the toddler, he saw a gut-wrenching scene.

There were dirty diapers on the floor, old food rotting in nearly every corner of the home, and roaches – some alive, some dead. Besides the wandering toddler, there were three other children living in the home. The oldest was just 15, and had been trying to take care of their younger siblings for quite some time. But since there was no food in the home, the small toddler had gone searching for something to eat.

Jarvis loaded the kids into his car and took them to the nearest DHS office. Sometimes, when children are taken into foster care, they bring in clothes, toys and toiletries. However, this sibling group had nothing. Their only clothes were dirty and too small. Soon after their arrival, a worker made sure the children had something to eat, went out to Walmart and bought each of them clean underwear, pajamas, shoes and personal items.

Sadly, this dismal scene is all too common. No child should have to experience what these four children knew as their everyday reality. That’s why it’s important for us to do everything we can to protect and care for our state’s foster children.

Currently, there are more than 4,900 children in foster care in Arkansas. As a parent, grandparent and governor, my heart goes out to these children who need our help and our support. In government, when you work on issues like foster care, results can sometimes come in forms of mandates and stand-alone events. But I want to do more, which is why I held the Restore Hope Summit last summer.

Already, our attention to this issue has resulted in changes within DHS and at the Division of Children and Family Services. The thoroughness of investigations has improved, the percentage of children receiving protective services who are abused or neglected is down, and the average time for adoption has decreased. Additionally, the number of beds for foster children has increased by nearly 400 since my Restore Hope Summit.

We have made progress, but there’s still more to be done. May 2016 is National Foster Care Month and Arkansas Foster Care Month. To help meet the needs of our foster children, I urge every Arkansan do your part and help build a brighter future for children like those rescued by Investigator Hale.

If you are able, please consider making a donation to the statewide donation drive to help make children’s first night in foster care a little easier. Items such as new clothes, suitcases, toiletries and kid-friendly snacks can be dropped off on weekdays in May at any of Arkansas’s 85 DHS county offices.

Every young Arkansan should know the safety and love of a permanent home. It’s up to us to help our children start their lives on the right paths. Together, we can make a difference for the next generation and give more hope for the future.