Arkansas DHS Works to Involve Families

In an attempt to remove some of the pressure stemming from the lack of open foster homes, the Arkansas Department of Human Services is working to bring more biological families into the system.

The change in policy has been influenced by the appointment of Mischa Martin as DCFS Director last year, as well as a slew of legislation from this year’s legislative session.

Alan Clark, a state senator from Garland County, has led the charge, sponsoring 24 bills in this legislative session alone – 11 concerning the rights of parents and grandparents.

“We are changing laws that make clear that relatives should be first,” said Clark, saying family members, especially grandparents have been powerless to help their grandchildren. “Good grandparents have lost their grandkids forever, and that is something that shouldn’t be happening.”

Child placement occurs in the courtroom where judges have the final say where a child ends up, often passing over grandparents.

“Judges don’t like it,” says Felecia Carter, referring to placements with family members, citing a lack of trust, associating families often times with the parents themselves.

Total Number of Kids in Care vs Family Placements (2005-2015)
Source: Arkansas Department of Human Services

While family placements have been relatively uncommon historically, placements with relatives have gone up to 353 in 2015, according to the most recent statistical reports, as DCFS Director Mischa Martin has placed an increased emphasis on using families. This comes as a significant shift since, according to Department of Human Services, under 10 percent of children in foster care end up in family placements.

As the state works to involve more relatives, legislators are hopeful the most pressing problems facing the foster system are getting better.

“The big part of the problem is we grew our foster care population by 25 percent in a year,” said Clark. “I hope we are beyond the summit;” however, noting afterward, “It is going to take a while.”

View the complete interview with Alan Clark here: