Much-needed family service workers
LITTLE ROCK — The state’s Division of Child and Family Services continues to struggle with high staff turnover and a high workload for family service workers. The two problems are closely linked.
The division administers the state’s foster care system. The number of children in foster care has increased during the pandemic, from 4,415 in March 2020 to 4,855 in October last year. By June 2022, the number had fallen slightly, to 4,541 children.
Staff at the division, which has about 1,000 workers, have often had to quarantine during the pandemic, resulting in a backlog of cases that has added to the pressures of their work.
The Family Services Worker’s average caseload increased from 20.2 in March 2020 to 24.9 in September 2021. As caseloads increase, staff turnover increases.
Last year, the turnover rate for family services workers increased from 44.5% in 2020 to 63.2% in 2021. The extremely high rate of staff turnover creates additional burdens for workers who remain and for supervisors whose duties include training.
The turnover rate for program assistants in the division was comparable to that of family service workers. It went from 45.3% in 2020 to 63.2% in 2021.
The division tried to reduce the turnover rate by increasing salaries. Salary for program assistants increased from $26,000 to $28,500 per year. The starting salary for family service workers has increased to $36,155, and once the worker completes classroom training, it increases by 7%.
Family Services workers have financial incentives to stay in the division, such as a 10% pay raise for becoming a specialist.
The legislature passed Law 574 in 2021 to direct two committees to study the best methods to reduce the number of children in foster care. These are the Interim Senate Committee on Children and Youth and the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth.
Both commissions will submit their findings to the Legislative Council by December 1.
According to a draft of the committees’ report, the state partnered with private organizations for additional assistance. One is called Restoring Hope. He works with parents to improve family life, thus avoiding the State having to intervene and find a foster home for neglected children.
Restore Hope works with homeless parents, parents who have been in jail, and parents who have not graduated from high school and have not earned a GED. The organization offers support for these parents to attend vo-tech schools to gain vocational skills. It also helps parents find stable housing.
The division is part of the state Department of Social Services. To illustrate the division’s need to reduce workload and staff turnover, its director told lawmakers that Pulaski County needs 174 new positions over the next three years to deal with a crisis in the case that has accumulated.
For example, she said, in November 2019 there were 364 foster children in Pulaski County and last November there were 708.
There is a sense of urgency, because these children are not only at risk of being neglected, but also of being abused.
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Editor’s Note: Arkansas Senator Cecile Bledsoe represents the Third District. From Rogers, Senator Bledsoe is chairman of the Senate Health Committee.