There is good news in the foster care world: Statewide, the foster care system has improved, according to a recent address by Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Unfortunately though, in Independence County the situation is still urgent.
An average day in Independence County sees 58 to 70 children in the foster care program, while the average number of available foster homes here is only 13.
“When I took office in 2015, our child-welfare and foster-care system was in urgent need of improvement,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote in an October report. At that time a review of the child-welfare and foster-care system was ordered, with dire findings. “It was a heart-rending judgment on our shortcomings,” the governor recalled of that initial starting point.
“I was especially alarmed to learn that caseworkers sometimes had to choose between taking children to their own homes, leaving the children at a division office, or pleading with foster parents to make room for one more child,” Hutchinson said.
After three years of work, the foster care emergency has drastically improved, according to the governor who noted one example of a caseworker whose average case load decreased from 85 to 15 under the leadership of Mischa Martin at the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). He called the progress a restoration of hope, extending a special thanks to the private sector faith-based organizations that have played a huge role by partnering with DCFS to recruit more foster and adoptive families.
The CALL is one such faith-based organization, and perhaps the most impactful.
It has created a streamlined system of recruiting and approving foster/adoptive families so the process is both quicker and easier. By signing up through The CALL, families are able to condense the lengthy training modules from 6+ months, down to two intensive weekends.
The CALL opened 214 new foster homes in Arkansas in 2018 and 82 new adoptive homes, according to its annual report. Families recruited by The CALL adopted 184 children out of foster care statewide last year.
And it is the Independence County chapter of The CALL that hopes it can change the situation in Independence County.
“The CALL started in Independence County in 2014, and for a couple of years it was going really strong,” explained Rodney Stroud, new director of the local chapter, attributing the initial progress to then-director Summer Sudol. “There were about 17 to 20 families at one time.”
After the loss of the director though, Stroud says the chapter basically went dormant. A renewed effort last October succeeded in bringing on a new 7-person leadership team, including Stroud. During the year that followed, the tide has shifted.
“There were 3 CALL families when we started and now we have 7 foster families, 6 (more) in the process of becoming approved homes, and 2 more with paperwork out,” Stroud said. “We think we need about 35 families (average of 2 per home), so we’re almost halfway there.”
Stroud said that although a good handful of people stepped up to lead, a few key leadership and volunteer positions still need to be filled. Aside from that, the main needs are “fundraising and families”.
There are currently about 70 kids in foster care from Independence County, and many of them have nowhere to go.
The extreme shortage of foster homes means Independence County children are often sent to other counties for temporary placement, leaving behind their schools, friends, teachers, in addition to their parents with whom they are allowed visits. The periodic court dates involved in the foster process are also held in the case’s originating county.
When the children are placed in homes outside the county, the distance and frequent trips can create a hardship on everyone involved.
As the director of The CALL, Stroud hears many reasons not to foster. The most common: The fear of a painful goodbye when children leave their care.
“It absolutely does hurt,” Stroud said, “but when you think about it, that’s selfish. That’s making our comfort more important than these children’s needs.”
For more information on donating, volunteering, or signing up as a foster/adoptive family through The CALL, text or call 870-612-4904 or visit https://thecallinarkansas.org/independence/.