DHS shows continued progress improving child welfare system

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News Release)- The Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has continued to make progress in the child welfare system aimed at strengthening families, improving foster care for those who need it, and better supporting its workforce; and is well-positioned to implement the new Family First Prevention Services Act, DCFS leadership announced Wednesday as it released its annual report on the system.

The new Family First Fits Us report is the fourth in a series of annual reports aimed to release an honest look at the areas needing improvement, strengths, and work already done in the Arkansas child welfare system.

“We chose the name of this year’s report – Family First Fits Us – because it is true. Our efforts over the last three years and our values are directly in line with this landmark piece of federal legislation,” said DCFS Director Mischa Martin. “It provides a roadmap and the support for us to continue to build upon the foundation DCFS has laid. The work will not be easy, but the effort to move from crisis to stability to progress is worth it because it is the right thing to do for children and families in Arkansas.”

Some of the key data points over the past three years are below. All data is current as of August 2019.

– The number of children in foster care in Arkansas has dropped from 5,196 in late 2016 to 4,285 in August 2019, an 18 percent decline and the lowest it has been since the crisis response began.

– Children who are placed with relatives is up from 21.3 percent in 2016 to 30.3 percent.

– Children placed in family-like settings is up from 77.6 percent in 2016 to 86.9 percent.

– The ratio of foster home beds to children in care is up from 0.69 in 2016 to 0.79.

– The average caseload for a frontline worker is down from 28 cases in 2016 to 19 cases.

Three years ago, DCFS began an aggressive but strategic set of reforms designed to pull the Arkansas child welfare and foster care system out of a crisis—one defined by extraordinarily high numbers of children in care, unmanageable caseloads, and families, workers, and partners who felt unsupported and undervalued.

DHS pulled together every resource available—national child welfare experts, practically every division in DHS, the Governor’s Office, and key community stakeholders—to come up with a plan to move intentionally and methodically away from crisis and toward stability and strength. In November 2016, we released a report called Moving Beyond Crisis.  A year later, the number of children in foster care had stopped rising and fewer young children were staying in emergency shelters. Caseloads had declined and families felt more supported. These were encouraging steps forward, but significant work remained. So, in September 2017, we ushered in Phase Two of our efforts with the release of the Renewed Hope report.

Renewed Hope focused on three key areas of improvement: (1) strengthening families so that children can remain safely at home and families are more resilient; (2) improving the foster care system so that it is stable for those who need it; and (3) building, supporting, and empowering a strong workforce. Again, it was an ambitious but focused plan designed to lay the groundwork for positive and sustainable improvements.  In October 2018, we released Foundation for the Future as Phase Three of our reform efforts with a continued focus on the areas above because the core of a strong child welfare system are resilient and supported families and workers.

At the same time, states were beginning to get guidance about a landmark piece of federal legislation called the Family First Prevention Services Act. More commonly known as Family First, it is the first major federal child welfare reform effort in decades. The law includes reforms to help keep children safely with their families and avoid the traumatic experience of entering foster care. At the same time, the law stresses the importance of children growing up in families and helps ensure children are placed in the least restrictive, most family-like setting to meet their needs when they do come into foster care. It emphasizes that every child deserves a safe, stable family every day.

“As we looked back at our reform efforts, we saw that our work in Arkansas mirrored the new requirements in the Family First legislation, “Martin said. “What could have been a daunting overhaul instead will be a continuation of the work we started three years ago. I appreciate how hard our staff, foster families, and partners have worked to get us to this point.”

All of the reports are available here under DCFS Reports. 

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