Report: Arkansas sees foster case numbers go up due to COVID-19 court closings

COVID-19 affecting DHS caseloads

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT/TALK BUSINESS & POLITICS) - The COVID-19 pandemic has caused state officials to either postpone or cancel court sessions around the state of Arkansas.

The cancellations have also stretched to cases involving children in foster care, according to a report from content partner Talk Business & Politics.

The number of foster children in the state has gone up by 150 children, to 4,445, in recent weeks due to the changes. Officials said that due to no in-person hearings being held in circuit court, children are not being adopted or placed with relatives.

However, state officials said they are working to reduce the number, especially due to cases now being heard through video conferencing, Talk Business & Politics said.

Division of Children and Family Services Director Mischa Martin said state officials are also working to protect foster children who may be temporarily removed from a home due to neglect or abuse.

As part of the work, Martin said caseworkers do use technology to do their job, but must make home visits to do initial abuse investigations.

“We have not shut down the child welfare system ... What we’ve messaged is, we want to use technology when we can, but for that ... initial child abuse investigation, we have to see the victim,” Martin said.

Officials also said there has been a decrease in the number of phone calls to the state child abuse hotline, in part, due to a majority of the calls coming from school employees.

According to state law, schools - which have been closed since mid-March and will be closed for the remainder of the school year- are required by law to report child abuse.

However, an investigative unit supervisor at DCFS - Rachel Speights - said the current conditions have not stopped her from doing her job.

“Yes, the coronavirus is here, and yes, it’s a very scary thing, but I don’t let it stop me protecting these children because these children are vulnerable and they need us, and if I don’t go in there, then who’s going to go in there and help them,” Speights told Talk Business & Politics.

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