Friday, Apr 12, 2013
Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Keeping Children and Families Together
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Child-welfare programs in Arkansas are becoming more effective and efficient, thanks to a recent shift toward a family-centered approach. Traditionally, it has been thought that removing children from certain situations and placing them in safe homes was always the best policy for the safety of the child. However, recent research has shown that it can be more complicated than that. Often, removing a child from everything that’s ever been familiar is a move that itself can cause considerable emotional trauma. As a result, the State has put new intervention techniques in place that allow some children to remain in their homes while professionals work with the entire family to make that home a safer place.
The changes are made possible through a waiver that Arkansas received from the federal government under the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The waiver allows the State more flexibility in child-welfare practices over a five-year period. The nine states with this waiver are allowed to demonstrate how restructuring resources can achieve better outcomes for children and families. Arkansas’s plan earned one of the highest grades on its application, and it is the most comprehensive of any of the participating states. This family-based approach will reach all children statewide by this August.
Our child-welfare workers now have a new way to respond to certain lower-risk, child-maltreatment scenarios. These circumstances can include inadequate food, clothing and shelter; inadequate supervision, and living environments that can threaten the health of a child. In those situations, the State can now focus on assistance and community involvement rather than strictly an investigative approach that can be perceived as adversarial.
In one recent example, a family was referred to the State for the poor living conditions of the children. They had been wearing the same clothes for multiple days, did not smell clean, and were living in a cluttered, roach-ridden home. In the past, this would have triggered an investigation that meant months of involvement between state officials and the family. Instead, the State referred the family to a community-assistance program that supplied the children with food and clean socks. The family received a donated bug sprayer, so they could address their pest problem themselves. The information and support from the State allowed the family to become more engaged in caring for their children without court or protective-service’s intervention.
With our State’s new flexibility, Arkansas’s approach to child welfare can safely reduce the number of children entering our foster care system. By avoiding the disruption of families when it’s possible to improve their situations with simple assistance, we limit the trauma children must sometimes endure. Our children are our greatest responsibility, and we must always try to act in their best interests. By responding to their needs on a case-by-case basis, we give them better chances for healthier, happier lives.