As a journalist and an aspiring academic, the goal of every project I take on is to find out why something is happening.
By getting to the root of the issue(s) at hand, discovering why something is happening can be the key to finding solutions as well. This project was no different.
When I started this project, I had an understanding of what was going on in the state but little understanding of why. By talking to people affected by the foster care system, I hoped to not only find out the causes behind some of the problems plaguing the system, but I also hoped that I would be able to gain a better understanding of what may make the system better.
After hours of listening to people directly involved and days of sifting through the information, I see three main issues plaguing the foster care system.
- Few people understand the scope of the situation. While it may seem obvious for people who interact with the foster care system on a regular basis, for individuals on the outside, the problem doesn’t often seem that significant. As a result, fewer people are looking to get involved, which means fewer foster homes, fewer case workers, and fewer constituents that pressure their legislators to take action.
- The retention rate across the board is mediocre. Whether it be keeping foster families of case workers, the lack of support from the state agency and state government provides little incentive for people involved in the foster care system to continue to do so. By providing more resources and greater incentives to stay involved, the problematic turnover rates have a better chance at being reversed.
- The system is strapped for resources. While the Department of Human Services was on the receiving end of a $27 million budget increase this year, DCFS is always fighting battles for resources. Whether it is finding enough money to pay workers decent wages or simply having enough workers to be able to provide adequate care for the children and their families, the lack of resources often drives the cycle that seems to keep the department in a constant state of need.
While these problems are significant and will not be solved overnight, my time working on this project has led me to think of a few ways to help.
- Spend money. In this fiscally conservative state, Arkansas’s legislators must make a commitment to continue to provide the necessary funds to provide DCFS with the tools it needs to combat the crisis. While the increase in the budget was a good start, the leaders of the state need to remain consistent.
- Strengthen relationships with outside groups. Organizations like The Call play a vital role in bringing in foster families and keeping them in the system. By strengthening relationships that are designed to reduce turnover and support the system, DHS can reduce some of the strain placed on the system.
- Encourage public literacy. Simply encouraging people to gain a better understanding of the problem will reap enormous benefits for the state. By providing people with information, the state will support the growth of open homes, the number of new case workers, and the public will to continue funding.
While these are by no means the only problems and only potential solutions, by working to solve these three issues, I believe that the foster care system will be in a much better state.