NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) — Hundreds of children are in the foster care system in Arkansas but the ongoing health crisis is creating challenges in getting kids into permanent homes.
According to the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), there are several challenges. They are short on staff across the board and finding permanent placement for the kids is taking much longer during the pandemic.
Tiffany Wright is the DCFS assistant director of community services. She says there are about 4,800 kids in the foster care system in Arkansas.
According to the DCFS monthly reports, 4,842 children were in the foster care system by the end of August 2021. That number was down from the previous month, during which 4,898 kids were in the system.
She adds DCFS is working every day to get kids into permanent homes, whether that means being reunited with their parents, adoption or guardianship. Wright says about 40% of kids are placed with family members.
However, there is a great need for foster homes. She says some families just don’t feel comfortable bringing a child into their home right now with the health crisis. Moreover, the agency is having a tough time recruiting new families.
“There’s always room for foster families. We need more foster families that open their homes and walk alongside these families that are struggling and that support reunification and working in getting these children reunified with their parents,” said Wright.
As of August 2021, DCFS reports there are about 1,600 foster homes in Arkansas.
John Bury and his wife have been foster parents for about nine years and have seen over 100 kids walk in and out of their home. Bury says they felt a higher calling to help. However, he is seeing the effects of the health crisis.
Bury says they are now getting about eight to ten calls a day, on average, to take a child in. Sometimes it’s just for the night, sometimes for a week or for months.
He says caseworkers are overworked, and he is seeing one after another leave the industry. Wright says the job is demanding but the health crisis has made it harder on workers. As of Aug. 2021, the average caseworker has 23 cases.
Bury is calling on the community to help foster children, adding that you can start slow and be as restrictive as you need. For example, you can opt to take in only teenagers or only toddlers. He says the main thing is that you open up your doors.
“This is Arkansas’s future, this is your future. The kids are not easy, but sometimes the most difficult, undisciplined kids become the most rewarding, productive citizen, and they will look back and they remember it,” said Bury.
He adds your home doesn’t need to be an oasis. You just need to be able to provide a space where these kids can feel safe and secure.
According to DCFS, families go through a four- to six-month vetting process, training, background checks, and an in-home consultation before they are approved to foster.
Wright says adoptions have also stalled during the pandemic, so DCFS has launched an initiative to ramp up efforts to get kids adopted called “Every day Counts” — where they’ll be sharing short films of kids ready to find their forever homes.
Bury says the process is worth every moment of comfort you can give to a child in need. He says he and his wife plan to keep their doors open to foster kids for as long as they can.
KNWA is committed to helping foster kids in Arkansas find loving forever homes. WATCH our Finding a Family series, which shares the stories of children in our area, looking for a family.