On the Frontline

Felicia Carter is busy. Sitting behind a desk covered in paperwork, Carter, a county supervisor in Pulaski County, has been on the front lines for years, working to keep Arkansas’s children safe.

An employee of the Arkansas Department of Human Services for 18 years, Carter moved to the Division of Children and Family Services in 2000 and has been county supervisor for just over a year. Assigned to the southern section of the most populous county in the state, Carter has just five workers at her disposal to work cases for well over a hundred children.

Source: Arkansas Department of Human Services

“It is a big crisis,” said Carter. “We don’t have enough.” Carter continued, discussing a lack of resources for not only foster children but for parents as well. “Over 80 percent of cases are drug related.”

Each member of Carter’s team is assigned more than 30 cases, which is above the statewide average of 26.7 cases and the national standard of 15 cases per worker, set by the Child Welfare League of America. “We don’t have enough [workers],” said Carter.

Carter said that the lack of employees is a symptom of a high turnover rate, caused by long hours, and mediocre wages.

“My workers do the work of five different positions for one job,” said Carter.

To encourage more people to become case workers, Gov. Asa Hutchinson included a $27 million increase in the DCFS budget to go to hiring more employees in areas with the greatest need. While Carter is a firm believer that boots on the ground will make a difference, she also said it takes a special person to work for DCFS.

“To work, you have to be unbiased,” said Carter. “You have to have a heart. You will cry. You have to be sympathetic; you have to be a giver.”

For Carter, her journey started when she was a child. Growing up in a single-parent household, Carter saw her mother worked to provide a life for her family.

“I know what it’s like to struggle,” said Carter. “I’ve always had lights, water, and gas, but I haven’t always had everything that I needed.”

Carter watched as her mother went back to school while working two jobs, sacrificing for her children. “Some nights she wouldn’t eat a lot, so I could eat a lot.”

Utilizing her life experiences, Carter feels like she can relate to children and families who interact with the system. “I want to help other families,” said Carter. “Let them know that I’ve been there.”

After years of working for DHS, Carter still has the drive for working with children.

“I get up every day because I have children who don’t have a voice,” she said. “I’m like that mother or father they never had. I think I was put here for that human side.”