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President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang
President Pro Tempore
Arkansas Senate
State Capitol
500 Woodlane St. Ste 320
Little Rock, AR 72201-1090

In Session Phone:
501-682-2902

Out of Session Phone:
501-682-6107

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91st General Assembly
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Division of Children and Family Services Wants to Add 228 Employees

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LITTLE ROCK - Adding 228 employees is one of several strategies proposed by the Division of Children and Family Services to improve the state's child welfare system, which division officials say is in crisis.
In a recent report, the Division outlined several problems and proposed solutions. High employee turnover, high caseloads and lack of experienced staff were factors in most of the critical areas.
The governor's proposed budget would add 228 employees to the Division. Lawmakers are currently reviewing his proposals in legislative budget hearings, and they will make a final decision on spending requests during the 2017 regular session that begins in January.
Other proposals include streamlining the process of recruiting and training relatives so they can become foster parents. This has been a very controversial issue at the Capitol and Division officials have appeared before legislative committees to explain policies about placement of children with relatives.
According to its report, the Division has reviewed policies on placement of children with relatives to determine if any obstacles need to be removed, in response to "the judicial and staff decisions that have been widely discussed in news reports and legislative committee meetings…"
The goal is to reach the national average rate of foster children placed with relatives, which is 29 percent. In Arkansas it is 25 percent.
The national standard for family service workers is for their caseloads to average about 15 cases per worker. In Arkansas the average caseload is 28, and the consequences are felt throughout the child welfare system.
For example, high caseloads mean that Division staff cannot conduct home visits as often as they should. The result is longer stays of foster children away from their parents, and longer stays in foster care, in group homes or in emergency shelters.
The report emphasized the need for additional drug treatment services for parents. Last year 52 percent of the children in foster care in Arkansas were taken in because of drug abuse by their parents. Policy changes are needed so parents with drug problems can be eligible for Medicaid-funded treatment. Only pregnant women and teenagers now qualify for drug treatment services, which are expensive.
Of the 228 new employees that the Division and the governor propose to hire, 150 would be family services workers, 18 would be supervisors and 60 would be assistants to help with transportation and clerical duties such as making photocopies.
Currently, the lack of personnel not only increases caseloads for family services workers, it also means that they spend too much time on administrative chores when their time would be better spent working with families.
In most of Arkansas the turnover rate for family services workers is 32 percent. The average experience level of family services workers in Arkansas of is 1.8 years.
The Division wants to reduce the need for current staff to work so much overtime because it is causing burnout. If it adds staff, the Division will create an entire second shift of family services workers to be on call at night, weekends and holidays.
The recommendations in the Division's report are meant to decrease the period of time that children in foster care must spend away from their families. Foster care for some children is a short-term solution when services such as drug treatment and health care are available for parents.

 


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