As a result of the statewide crisis in the foster care system, foster homes have to do more with much less. Currently, there are over 5,000 children in foster care throughout the state. According to the most recent reports from the Division of Children and Family Services, there are open beds for just over half of the children in foster care.
“The agency knows how many open spots we have in our home,” said foster parent Kim Carter, “yet we get a lot of calls for kids that we can’t take.”
Carter, who has a Master’s degree in early childhood special education, has been serving the Garland County area since 2005 and has seen the effects of the foster care crisis first hand.
“Working with the agency has definitely been one of the more trying parts of the experience,” said Kim Carter.
With resources being scarce, Carter cites poor communication between the department and the families as a major part of the problem.
“It is commonplace for agency employees to lie to foster parents and keep them in the dark regarding important issues with the child,” Carter said.
One of the reasons for poor communication is the lack of caseworkers. The average caseload statewide stood at just below 27 cases per worker, nearly double the load recommended by the Child Welfare League of America.
“Overworked and underpaid” is the assessment given by Selina Porter, a program assistant for the Division of Child and Family Services who agrees that there is a crisis in the system.
With some social workers in her department taking on upwards of 40 cases, Porter said. “There is just so much we have to do.”
Porter, a foster parent from 2006 to 2012, joined the division after years of working with children in a hospital setting to help assist children in need. “Reunification makes it worth the hard work.”
Porter mentioned community awareness would go a long way remedying some of the problems.
“People are aware,” said Porter. “Many of these needs could be met by a neighbor.”
For Carter, she believes it will take increased funding and reshaping the foster care system to solve current problems.
“That is no easy order. It would take a great deal more resources in so many areas,” she said.
Aimed at getting more resources to the department, Asa Hutchinson proposed a $27 million increase to the DHS budget this year, with a primary goal of hiring more workers.