(KARK) Four months after the governor declared a “crisis” in the Arkansas foster system, a panel of lawmakers learned Wednesday that little progress is being made on some of the major problems.
“It’s scary to think about leaving a one-year-old child in a home with a parent using meth,” said DHS caseworker Tiffany Wright.
Wright works 60 hours per week and is responsible for 45 children in the state’s foster care system.
“[Case workers] jeopardize their own families, their own health to be able to do this job,” said Lisa Jensen, a DHS area director who supervises case workers in seven counties.
Those stresses were part of the reason that back in July Governor Asa Hutchinson pledged $8 million to hire 200 new case workers over three years.
“Our objective is to reduce the case load for those workers in the field,” he said on July 16.
But since then DHS has only increased its number of case workers by 15.
“I don’t think we’re failing,” said Cecile Blucker, director of DHS’s Division of Family Services.
Blucker says DHS has been successful in eliminating a backlog of people waiting to be foster parents.
They are hiring new case workers, she said. But turnover is high. Fifty percent of current workers were hired within the last year.
Starting pay is just $30,000 a year.
“That’s something that we’re taking a look at: the pay scale on these workers,” said Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway.
But legislative changes take time — meaning caseworkers will likely continue to struggle.
“How can we appropriately engage our families if we only have one hour per case?” Wright asked lawmakers.