Executive order to protect children, to support families, and to improve the foster care system in Arkansas

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

WHEREAS: Children are a special gift from God and every child deserves a loving and nurturing family;

WHEREAS: Substance abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence, absent parents, and broken homes put children at risk;

WHEREAS: When parents are temporarily or permanently unable to care for a child, the State of Arkansas has the responsibility to ensure safe, nurturing care for that child in a supportive environment;

WHEREAS: According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, as of January 2023, approximately 4,100 children are in foster care in Arkansas;

WHEREAS: Arkansas lacks a sufficient number of family foster homes to sufficiently provide ideal placements for children in foster care;

WHEREAS: According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, approximately 196 children in Arkansas reached the age of majority while in foster care, which is described by the term “aging out” within the foster care system;

WHEREAS: Those that age out of the foster care system in Arkansas are at a significantly higher risk for homelessness, human trafficking, and incarceration.

WHEREAS: It is the policy of this administration to ensure that all children in Arkansas have adequate care and resources within the foster care.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, acting under the authority vested in me as the Governor of the State of Arkansas, do hereby order the following:

That there shall be established the Arkansas Strategic Plan for Foster Care Placement (the “Plan”).

The Plan shall have a working group composed of:

The Secretary of the Department of Human Services,

The Secretary of the Department of Public Safety;

The Secretary of the Department of Education; and

Every Child Arkansas, which includes non-profit, faith-based organizations, private placement agencies, and other organizations.

The Plan’s working group shall develop strategies of preventive action whose purposes are:

To keep children and families out of the foster care system;

To increase the number of available foster families to provide for an ideal placement of children taken into care; and

To increase the percentage of children who are reunited with their biological families after being placed into foster care.

The Plan’s strategies shall include:

Defining children and families eligible for prevention services;

Connecting eligible children and families to prevention services;

Collaborating to enhance and streamline the delivery of services to children in foster care and to foster families;

Facilitating coordinated monitoring of child safety and risk;

Supporting in-home parenting and practices;

Delivering mental health and substance abuse treatment and services as needed to biological and foster families and to foster children;

Educating child-welfare workers, public safety and law enforcement officers, and educators on available prevention services and connecting eligible children and families to these services;

Developing strategies and related metrics to recruit, train, and license foster families to provide ideal placements for children in care, and to increase foster family support efforts with a goal of improving foster family retention rates across the state;

Developing strategies to recruit foster families who are committed to supporting biological families and promoting reunification.

Upon developing the Plan, the Working Group shall undertake the following responsibilities:

To incorporate “trauma-informed training” into existing training systems within the respective departments for child-welfare workers, public safety and law enforcement officers, and educators;

To recommend to the Governor any specific actions needed to facilitate this Order’s directive, including additional Executive or Legislative action no later than June 30, 2023.

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, or her designee, shall:

Streamline the placement of children in foster care with relatives, as directed in Ark. Code Ann. § 9-28-1003(19) by:

Reducing processing time to open and license a child’s relatives to forty-five (45) days or less.

Accelerating the process for permanent adoption to relatives.

Reviewing statutory language and department regulation to reduce the mandatory waiting time for children in care where the adoption is to a relative;

Recommending to the Governor any statutory or regulatory change to better serve children in foster care.

Streamline the process for adoption from State foster care within sixty (60) days of the enactment of this Order. These actions shall include:

Reducing the processing time to open and license a family for foster care.

Decreasing the time between the completion of the mandatory six-month placement period and finalization of the adoption.

Providing adoptive families with additional transparency as to the adoption process and timeline.

Implement or enhance efforts to support children aging out of foster care, which include:

Conducting a study to evaluate current strategies in Arkansas, which assist children aging out of foster care through housing, education, and other assistance given to those aged 18-21 years old. This study shall compare the outcomes in Arkansas to the national and regional outcomes.

Submitted a report on strategies to interrupt generational cycles of abuse and neglect that impact children aging out of foster care.

Presenting recommendations on measures to avoid homelessness, human trafficking, and incarceration for children aging out of foster care no later than June 30, 2023.

The Director of the Division of Children and Family Services at the Arkansas Department of Human Services (“DCFS”) shall meet quarterly with organizations, coalitions, officials, relevant stakeholders in the adoption and foster care advocacy community, and a representative of the Office of the Governor, to collaborate on efforts to better serve children and families receiving services through DCFS, including foster families and adoptive families.

These meetings shall continue through at least the end of calendar year 2025, which the Governor may extend upon request and need.

An annual report shall be submitted to the Governor detailing the findings, progress, and recommendations that result from these meetings.

Within one year of the effective date of this Order, the DCFS shall create or coordinate a single-source website location for data related to foster care in Arkansas, which shall include:

County-level foster care data.

Annual report card and operational report for DCFS.

Any other material determined by the Director of DCFS as valuable to enhance knowledge and transparency of the State foster care system.

The name and contact information of at least one foster and adoption advocate in each county, who is not employed by the state of Arkansas, to provide guidance, support, and information to Arkansas residents interested in becoming foster parents.

This Executive Order shall become effective upon its signing and shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive orders.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and cause the Great Seal of the State of Arkansas to be affixed this 28th day of February, in the year of our Lord 2023.