Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – State government is tightening its belt in almost every area, and during the current fiscal year has had to reduce its budget by $206 million.

However, during the fiscal session that formally concluded last week the legislature was able to maintain staffing increases in a vital program - the protection of abused and neglected children.

The Division of Children and Family Services received funding in the 2009 regular session to add about 100 new case workers. It takes at least six months to train a new employee. When the new workers finished their training, the Division was able to bring down the average case load from 36 per worker last June to 31 cases per worker. Division officials hope to continue making progress and be able to lower average case loads to 27 or 24 per worker.

Some national advocacy groups say the average case load should be no more than 15 for staff that investigates allegations of abuse and neglect. That is a goal few states have been able to reach because of financial constraints.

Bringing down average case loads to a specific number, such as 15, is only one way to improve responsiveness. Improvements in Arkansas have come from putting the right people in supervisory positions. Their work experience is vital to providing support for case workers and in monitoring case loads to make sure children receive help as quickly as possible.

The Division is trying to reduce high turnover among its staff so that less funding is spent on training and more can be devoted to services.

The Division is keeping up with several thousand Arkansas children. Some of those will be placed in foster homes and some will remain with their families but with safeguards in place. Every child has a right to live with a family in a safe environment and the goal of case workers is to place them a stable and permanent home.

Last year the Division was able to recruit an additional 426 new foster homes and now the state has a total of 1,077 approved foster homes.

Last year there were 7,446 Arkansas children in foster care homes, though not all of the children were in foster care at the same time. At year's end there were 3.856 children in foster care. The prevalent reason was substance abuse on the part of their parents, which resulted in neglect of the children.

Although the goal of the Division is to place children in a permanent home, 54 percent of the children in foster care at year's end had been placed in at least two foster homes during the year.

More than 4,000 children left foster care, for a variety of reasons. About 3,000 were either reunified with their parents or moved in with relatives who were awarded custody. About 150 were placed under the custody of someone who was not a relative and about 150 "aged out," meaning they turned 19. In 2009 there were 368 children placed in adoptive homes.

Last year 57 Arkansas children were classified as runaways and of those, two-thirds were girls. There were 466 children whose parents had their parental rights terminated.

The Division's annual budget is about $141 million, with the state general revenue fund providing 40 percent and the federal government providing 60 percent.

No comments: