New study examines the foster care system in Arkansas - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

New study examines the foster care system in Arkansas

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For a young child entering the foster care system can be a traumatic experience.

Leaving their home, school, and familiar environment can cause alot of stress for the child and new study exposes an alarming trend in the foster care system in Arkansas.

Advocates now want to find better alternatives to meeting their needs.

Mandy McLelland is not only new mom planning to one day foster children in Arkansas, she's also a county coordinator with "The Call," a statewide group that helps meet the needs of local children in foster care.

"Anything that could cut down the time that children are going to spend in foster care, of course, we want to do that," said McLelland.

According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, at any given time there are roughly 4,000 children in the state's foster care system.

Of those, between 500-700 have had parental rights terminated and are in need of adoption.

But according to a recent study, there's a high rate of children entering foster care who may be better served in their own home.

"We were surprised at how short of a time period the children stayed in the foster care system," said Jennifer Ferguson, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

In her report, statistics showed that nearly a third of the children who entered the system during a five year period left within 30 days.

"More than likely if they're in there that short of a time period, they're not receiving alot of services because it's hard to get services in place that quickly, " said Ferguson.

Half of all children entering foster care in Arkansas are under the age of six.

State advocates want to come up with alternatives to keep short-term foster kids out of the system.

Ferguson says the first step involves getting a waiver from the federal government to shift foster-care spending.

"Currently, the way federal money is set up it really only helps pay for services when a child is in foster care," said Ferguson.

Area four, which includes nine counties in the Texarkana region, recorded 23 percent of children exiting foster care within a week.

It's the second largest percentage in the state.

To help reduce the number of children entering foster care, the state is implementing new programs to identify needs of the child and families sooner.

"So especially for some place like, area four, that has kids coming in for a very short period of time, that may be able to put more services in the home, so those kids are coming in and there will be funding for those services," said Ferguson.

While the most common reason for removing a child from a home in Arkansas is neglect, the study showed the Texarkana region had a higher rate of children removed from the home due to physical or sexual abuse.

McLelland says while there are cases where a child needs to be removed from home many children could benefit from staying at home with more services that meet their needs.

"Parents could just need a little help, parenting classes, things like that. Get the wake up call they need, so they can have a nurturing home for their little ones," said McLelland.

The Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families will soon release two more studies that'll look at reducing time spent in foster care and increasing stability of a child's placement in foster care.


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