SEEKING COMMUNITY SUPPORT … (left) Kristi Davis of DHS Children & Family Services with (right) Stephanie Hrabal of CASA — their pair, along with Sherri Smith of The Call (not pictured), were on hand last week in Murfreesboro at Cash Saver and in Glenwood at Wright’s informing interested parties on the need and pathways to become foster parents or child advocacy participants.
MURFREESBORO — While there is currently a need for child advocacy and foster homes in Pike and Montgomery Counties, there are currently few takers.
A trio of groups that work hand in hand together toward solving those issues spent time at both Murfreesboro and Glenwood last week, spreading the word of their goals to interested parties.
According to Kristi Davis of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Children Family Services, there are approximately 15 children currently needing placement in foster homes from Pike and Montgomery County. Davis recruits foster homes and foster parents for DHS.
However, there is only one foster home currently in the county, and it went into effect just weeks ago.
Davis works via a grant obtained by the state and covers a nine county area — Pike, Howard, Clark, Hot Spring, Saline, Montgomery, Polk, Garland and Perry.
“My efforts are just to get new foster homes because there is such a crisis,” said Davis. “We are wanting kids in homes instead of shelters and are especially looking for homes that will take teenagers, sibling groups, children with special needs and children who have been in care for an extended period of time, usually several years, and are eligible for adoption. It’s harder to place these sorts of kids, because less homes will take them.”
Davis said that optimally it was better to place the foster children close to home.
“Keeping kids in the community — consistent schools and services makes it easier on them,” she said. “These kids are going through one of the most traumatic situations of their life, being removed from everything they know, even if it is an unsafe environment … trying to lessen that trauma by keeping them around their friends, school teachers and things like that is a very vital part of lessening that trauma.”
Sherri Smith, Pike and Montgomery County Coordinator for The Call, was on hand representing the non-profit group that is funded by contributions for individual donors, churches, foundations and corporations.
“Each child in the system needs a temporary foster home and some will need an adoptive home,” said Smith. “It is not their fault — abuse or neglect brought them to this point, and they need stability and support to help them heal and grow. However, there aren’t enough willing families to provide them a home,” said Smith. “It is especially heartbreaking when siblings have to be separated when they need each other the most, or children are sent to another county because there is no room for them close to home.”
The Call works to develop a pool of available foster and adoptive homes locally, as well as providing training and support for local families to open their homes, all while working with DHS.
According to program literature, The Call in Pike and Montgomery Counties will seek Christian families to minister to children in foster care, with the goal of having an abundance of homes to place children so that “they are no longer waiting for placement, being placed outside their county or separated from their siblings.”
While The Call operates in both Montgomery and Pike Counties, Smith said that they are current focused primarily on Pike County in the hope of opening more homes in the area to foster children.
To that end, the group has been holding information meetings within the county every few months, and will hold another on July 31 at a yet to be determined location in either Glenwood or Murfreesboro.
People can foster children through either organization, according to Davis, the process is just slightly different.
More information on The Call can be found at www.thecallinarkansas.org or by emailing email@example.com. DHS can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, while more information can be found at www.fosterarkansas.org.
Davis said that transporters were also a big need for DHS, and that people can help out without taking on the full-time responsibility of a child, getting paid 42 cents per mile to take the children to court, therapy and other such destinations.
Stephanie Hrabal, an Executive Director for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Pike and Clark Counties, said the need for child advocates was just as strong.
CASA trains and supports local community members to work with children in the foster care system.
“Their job is to become the eyes and the ears of the judge — they are a consistent person in a child’s life, no matter where that child is placed in the state. We follow that child, making sure they have their representation in court, work with the attorney for the child, do court reports for the judge so they will know exactly what is going on so the judge will make the best possible decision for the kids,” said Hrabal.
Hrabal said that volunteers for CASA would be an investigator “to an extent,” being part of the case plan process as parents work to regain custody of the children along with the services provided by DHS for reunification.
“What we do is follow up on the case plan and how are the parents doing with that. We talk with parent’s therapists, we talk with the parents themselves, we talk with foster parents, we visit the kids’ schools … we want to know anything and everything that is going on with the case, and then report back to the judge. Are there any needs right now, are there any recommendations we need to make that would benefit the family.”
The process would require home visits, making phone calls, attending court to testify, all summing to to 10-15 hours a month, including travel time. Volunteers would work only one to two cases at a time so they can truly focus on the issues at hand.
“There’s quite a bit that goes into it,” said Hrabal. “But it is definitely a great program — it’s helpful not only to the parents to connect the with resources, but provides consistency for the child to know there is an adult in their life that no matter ‘where I’m at or what’s going on that will be here for me.’”
There is only one active CASA volunteer in Pike County at the moment.
“We need more,” said Hrabal, noting that Clark County is currently serving 100% of eligible children for the service. “We can’t serve the kids if we don’t have the volunteers, and if the is no CASA volunteer, a case just goes without.”
She said that cases without a CASA volunteer rely on an overextended DHS and attorney system as well as foster parents, when applicable, to do the legwork. “Without a volunteer, there is not that extra advocate — CASA volunteers can step in and be a help to the families, to the foster families, to DHS, to the court system and spend the time that is truly needed for the children.”
Hrabal said any one interested in the CASA program can get involved by emailing her at email@example.com or by calling her at (870) 230-1450.
More information can be located at www.casaofclarkandpike.org as well as on Facebook.