Family service workers share needs in foster care system

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 9:09 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Across the state, hundreds of people work to ensure the safety of kids within the foster care system.

Those people are family service workers.

For the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services, keeping the number of foster homes and employees available is a struggle, especially after a difficult 2020.

Mischa Martin, Deputy Secretary for Youth and family services, said it is an issue they continue to face as employees are tired and managing trauma.

Reporter Imani Willimas sat down with the people on the ground working hand-in-hand with families and kids each day.

The world of foster care is unpredictable. That is how Crystal Griffith explains it.

“A very unpredictable world,” said Griffith, a family service worker with the Cross County Department office.

According to a State Senate report, the average caseload for a family service worker grew from 20.2 cases in March 2020 to nearly 24.9 in September 2021, surpassing the department goal of just 20 cases.

When case numbers go up, turnover does as well according to the report.

For some of the workers, they continue to do the work needed to keep the system moving.

“I predominately work foster care cases where I provide services to children who have been removed from their homes,” said Griffith. “I am providing support to the foster parent as well.”

Griffith has worked as a family service worker for 13 years. She explained some of what she believes are needs within the system.

“That need ranges from there being more relative homes, traditional homes, also therapeutic homes,” she said.

“We do have a lot of kids that are placed across the state because that is the closest therapeutic foster home that they have, which also puts a wrinkle and some barriers in sibling visitation and family visitation,” said Toni Epps on the need for more therapeutic foster homes.

Epps is the County Supervisor for Cross County DCFS.

The state senate report noted the Department increased salaries and began other incentives to add more workers and decrease turnover.

Since these changes, data provided by the Arkansas Department of Human Services shows the number of foster care monthly visits have increased, which ultimately helps foster parents feel supported.

The department has a goal for family service workers to visit 95% of their foster care homes.

In March of 2023, they nearly reached the goal sitting at 91%.

“If there are any neglect and child abuse reports we go out and initiate them,” said Epps.

Parts of her area were recently hit by a tornado in March. This impacted some of the foster homes.

She said in times like that, the relationship they create with their foster families is important.

“I’m going to say, anywhere between 40 to 50 foster homes in Cross County. The route that the tornado took. Only 5 of our homes, made it to where they are unlivable,” she said.

But despite tragedy, she said they had about 10 kids placed.

“7 to 10 kids and not one of them came to us and said ‘We can’t do this we don’t know where we are going to live. Please, we got to find another placement,” she said.

For all parties, the safety and care of the children in care came first