More than 10,000 children were found to have been maltreated at home in fiscal year 2016, while 24% of the 35,493 maltreatment reports to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline were found to be true, according to a report presented to legislators Wednesday (Nov. 30).
The numbers were part of the Division of Children and Family Services’ Annual Report Card covering July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. It was produced by Hornby Zeller Associates and presented to two legislative committees by Mischa Martin, director of the Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services.
Of the 10,117 children found maltreated, nearly half were five years or younger. Sixty-eight percent (6,857) were victims of neglect, 21% (2,167) were victims of physical abuse, and 20% (1,987) were victims of sexual abuse. Sixty-eight percent were white and 17% were African-American. Nine percent of children involved in true investigations experienced a recurrence within 12 months.
Fifty-nine of the investigations involved a child fatality. Of those, 41 were found to be true, 13 were found to be unsubstantiated and five were pending.
Of the 35,493 reports, 6,150 of the most serious, or 17%, were assigned to the Arkansas State Police’s Crimes Against Children Division while the remaining 29,343 were assigned to the Division of Children and Family Services. Thirty-five percent of the cases assigned to the State Police were substantiated, while 22% of DCFS cases were. Between them, 24% were substantiated. The national average is 19%.
Over the course of the year 4,447 of the least serious cases were handled through differential response, a strategy where the Division of Children and Family Services engages a family and offers services. The most common reason for those cases was inadequate supervision (34%), with environmental neglect cited in 30% of the cases and educational neglect cited in 25%.
Under the law, maltreatment reports must be initiated within 24 hours of the most serious Priority I reports and within 72 hours of Priority II reports. In fiscal year 2016, DCFS met that standard 82% of the time. DCFS is required to complete investigations within 45 days of receiving the report and met that standard 63% of the time, a drop from 69% the previous year.
Many maltreatments result in the removal of children from their homes and placed into foster care situations. The number of children in such care recently has spiked – from 3,930 in fiscal year 2013, to 4,957 at the end of the fiscal year, to 5,230 now. Martin has stated that long-term, the problem is not so much that more children are entering foster care but that fewer children are leaving it. In fiscal year 2016, 4,200 entered foster care while 3,593 left the system. Both represented increases from fiscal year 2015, when 3,798 entered the system and 3,459 left it.
Martin has said one of many factors causing the rise of children in the system has been high caseloads resulting from a lack of caseworkers. Caseloads topped out at 30.4 per caseworker in May 2016 but dropped to 28.3 the next month. The national standard is 15. Those high caseloads can lead overworked caseworkers to err on the side of requesting removal because they don’t have time to properly determine a child is safe, nor do they have time to work with families toward reunification, she has said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s budget includes money to hire 228 DCFS staff members over three years, including 102 employees this year. Those include 60 caseworkers.
The children enter foster care for a variety of reasons. Fifty-two percent entered the system because their parents had substance abuse problems, while neglect was cited in 2,176 cases. Other issues cited were parent incarceration (20%); physical abuse (13%); inadequate housing (10%); and sexual abuse (5%).
Forty-six percent of placed children were in a foster family home, while 11% were in a residential facility, 11% were in a provisional home, and 6% were in a therapeutic foster home. Thirty-seven percent stayed in foster care 3-12 months, while 6% were in foster care less than 30 days. Twelve percent remained there more than 36 months. Forty-three percent of children in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2016 were ages 5 and under.
Of children who left foster care, 44%, or 1,582, were reunified with their families, while 28% were placed in the custody of relatives and 20% were adopted. In 5% of the cases, the child aged out of the system.
In 2016, 720 adoptions were finalized, while 681 children were available for adoption at the end of the year. Only 27% of them were ages five and under. Younger children are considered more likely to be adopted. However, 21% of the available children were in a pre-adoptive home, meaning they were likely soon to be adopted.