I-TEAM: The impact of foster care and the problems faced

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 10:49 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - “Strengthening Minds... Uplifting families,” that’s the theme for The Children’s Bureau’s National Foster Care Month campaign.

Foster care impacts hundreds of thousands of kids a year. Right now it’s impacting nearly 400,000 youth.

Daily, some children face a harsh reality when they are removed from their homes and put into foster care.

According to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2021, three per 1,000 kids under 18 entered foster care in the United States every day.

This happens for a number of reasons, but the most common causes are abuse and neglect.

Mischa Martin, Deputy Secretary of Youth and Families with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said this is a wide issue.

“That’s about 50%, they have two things going on substance abuse and neglect. That’s a challenge we see across the state,” she said.

Martin explained the department first works with families and investigates claims of abuse and neglect before taking a child out of a home.

She said they serve around 15,000 at-risk children that are still living in homes with their families, while also investigating nearly 30,000 claims of neglect and abuse.

“For the government to remove a child from the family is a major decision,” she said. “So we have to know that child is in immediate danger and that the only way we can keep that child safe is removal and place into the state’s custody.”

In Area 8 of Arkansas for the department, which includes Fulton, Izard, Sharp, Randolph, Lawrence, Clay, Greene, Craighead, and Mississippi counties, data from the department showed 411 children were in foster care in March 2023. This number is down from April 2022, when the number sat at 481 children.

The number of youth in foster care is down, but placement is still an issue for the department. The number of foster homes is down to only 158 across the nine counties in Area 8.

“Placement is always a struggle, so in Arkansas, we have made it a goal that if kids can go with a safe appropriate relative or fifth of kin, that’s absolutely the best placement,” Martin said.

Bringing awareness to the need for more foster homes is important to make sure those in foster care have a place to go.

“You can open through the state to be a foster family, but we have also partnered with several nonprofits for foster families to open through a nonprofit,” Martin said.

For the department, the number of foster homes and employees going down is a struggle, especially after a difficult 2020 and 2021.

“There are many tired people, people who have left us, people who have been in the trenches before COVID and are still through COVID. So, there is a lot of secondary trauma that has happened, not just through your typical abuse and neglect, but also getting through the pandemic, managing your family, managing the child welfare system,” Martin said.

This stress continues to cause a need for more employees in the department.

“So, we continue to face struggles with keeping, and retaining staff in the child welfare space,” Martin said.

Regardless, the department continues to strive for the goal of keeping children safe and creating strong families. Martin said this is achieved with the help of the community.

“We can’t just focus on safety, but we also have to focus on strong and stable families, and we can’t do that alone. So, we need our communities. The way children are successful is by having long-term support in their community,” she said.

If you are interested in becoming a foster family, visit Every Child Arkansas’ website.