Child welfare crisis | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Child welfare crisis

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 8:07 AM

Merry Christmas. The news about Arkansas's care for endangered children isn't good. Despite Gov. Mike Beebe's oft-announced good intentions, the respected Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families reports that not much has improved.

We are all to blame. The daily newspaper has done a bangup job of hounding the state employees who did a poor job accounting of expense money for residents of the Alexander Human Services Center. Similar attention to the four dead and battered state wards reported this year -- episodes in which we STILL don't have an accounting on whether DHS employees were even scolded for their failures -- might save lives, not just pocket money.

The bottom line: children in danger of abuse and neglect are waiting longer for state intervention. I need not remind you, but will, of the battered child returned to an abusive home by a caseworker -- a home in which another DHS worker lived. The child nearly died for the state's lack of intervention.

It's a tough assessment. I'll seek a response shortly.

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas children at risk of abuse or neglect are waiting longer for help from the state Division of Child and Family Services, according to an analysis of performance indicators by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

 

The annual report found that after a few years of improvement, the division fell further behind in quickly starting investigations after receiving reports of abuse or neglect. "Waiting for Helping Hands: An Analysis of the Arkansas Child Welfare Crisis" is AACF's fourth annual report on the child welfare system.

 

"We found that the system charged with protecting abused or neglected children has shown little improvement in the past year," said Jennifer Ferguson, AACF Deputy Director. "This is especially worrisome given the deaths this year of children in protective custody. We worry that many children aren't safe."

 

Among the findings:

·         Between March 2008 and June 2008, the number of investigations initiated within 72 hours of a report dropped from 81 percent to 65 percent. The division's goal is 95 percent.

·         In cases where a child remained in the home, child welfare workers visited those children at least monthly only 53 percent of the time. This rate is up from 46 percent in 2007, but is still far below the division's goal is 80 percent.

·         Child welfare workers performed an assessment of a child's safety and home situation in a timely manner only 43 percent of the time. This is an improvement from 35 percent in 2007, but still falls short of the division's goal of 80 percent.

The indicators examined are from the 2008 state fiscal year, which ended in June. Since that time, Gov. Mike Beebe and the Department of Human Services have begun to address some problems through key leadership changes, an increased emphasis on accountability and moving more resources to local offices, Ferguson said.

 

"The governor has said the child welfare system is a top priority," Ferguson said. "We hope he maintains that commitment as the economy worsens, because it's expected that more children will enter the system as families are destabilized and stretched to the limit."

 

Among the AACF recommendations for immediate consideration:

·         DCFS must initiate action on cases sooner and provide more intensive services to families within the first 30 days of a case opening, so families can get the services they need to care for children and keep their children at home.

·         DCFS workers must be able to devote sufficient time to each case. Caseloads per worker should be reduced from the current average of 28 per worker. The ideal average is 15 per worker.

·         DCFS should strive to ensure that county supervisors use data reports to promote greater accountability among staff, reward achievements and better monitor deficiencies.

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