Arkansas foster care officials aim to hire 228 more workers

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A $26.7 million increase in the budget for Arkansas' child welfare program will pay for hundreds of new foster care workers as the agency tries to lighten workers' caseloads and increase the number of homes available for children in the state's custody, officials said Monday.State Department of Human Services officials released a report detailing the steps being taken to stabilize the foster care system, which has grown by 30 percent over the past year, to 5,200 children. Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed budget would allow the agency to hire 228 additional staffers over the next two years, state DHS director Cindy Gillespie said."We also have a child welfare system that — we don't casually say this — that truly is in crisis," Gillespie told reporters.Gillespie said new hires would help reduce the caseloads of existing workers, who have been leaving for jobs elsewhere. Caseworkers currently face an average caseload of 28, which is nearly double the national standard of 15 per worker, according to the report released.The department said it found that most of its family service workers, on average, have slightly more than 1.8 years of experience. She said the department planned to shift the money it spends on overtime to create a second shift of workers who would work evenings or other off hours."We have workers that leave us to take jobs elsewhere inside DHS at lower salaries, but they're able to go home to their own children at night," Gillespie said.The additional funding would also be used to create a five-person "mobile crisis unit" that would be deployed to areas with high turnover among caseworkers.The department said it's also launching a $4 million home visiting program aimed at keeping more children in their homes and out of foster care. The program will be paid for fully with federal Medicaid funds and will have para-professionals visit homes to help parents improve children's health, as well their own.Other changes the department said it's enacting include expanded mentoring and parenting programs with faith-based and nonprofit groups, increasing foster child placement with relatives and streamlining the foster parent application process.___Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at 

By Tue, Dec 13, 2016 @ 12:38 am

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