Bill would create private alternative to foster care

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 409 views 

A bill allowing parents in a crisis to use a private placement agency to find caregivers for their children will be considered Wednesday by the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative & Military Affairs Committee.

House Bill 1048 by Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, would permit “voluntary respite care,” a temporary arrangement where parents in a crisis, such as those facing a medical issue or undergoing drug treatment, could voluntarily work with a person or entity that is exempt from licensure. Nonprofit groups would recruit host families into the program.

Meeks, who has fostered about 20 children and adopted three, said the arrangement is an alternative to foster care. The number of children in foster care has been growing rapidly and now stands at 5,200 as of Jan. 22, according to the Department of Human Services.

With foster care, children are removed against their caregivers’ wishes from homes deemed unsafe by the state’s Division of Children and Family Services and by a judge. The children are returned to the home only when it is determined to be an appropriate environment.

In a private placement agency, the parents would participate in the placement process, would retain legal custody, could visit their children at any time, and could end the arrangement at any time.

Meeks said respite families would not have to undergo the extensive training and preparation required of foster families, which is an impediment to some. Respite care providers and care coordinators would be exempt from licensure but would still undergo a fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check and a criminal records check by the Arkansas State Police. Agencies would be required to report evidence of child maltreatment.

“If a mother or father or whatever are having issues and they can’t place that child with, like, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, then they could go through this nonprofit organization and place them with a host family that’s been vetted, gotten the background check done,” he said. “And then once whatever issue that they have has been cleared up, then they can get their child back, and you do this without having courts involved, without having our Division of Children and Family Services involved.”

According to Meeks, the main national provider of the service is Safe Families, who according to its website is located in 70 cities in the United States and elsewhere. It wants to come to Arkansas and likely would work with Bethany Christian Services, a Little Rock-based adoption agency.