Reducing High Rates of Incarceration and Foster Care

Sebastian County Marks 5-Year Anniversary of 100 Families Initiative
Paul Chapman, Abbie Cox, and Eddie Lee Herndon at the 5-year anniversary celebration of the 100 Families initiative
Paul Chapman, Abbie Cox, and Eddie Lee Herndon at the 5-year anniversary celebration of the 100 Families initiative

An initiative known as 100 Families that began five years ago to reduce Arkansas’s high incarceration and foster care rates in Sebastian County is showing tremendous progress. Community members and leaders in Sebastian County gathered on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 11 a.m. at the Peak Innovation Center in Fort Smith to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the initiative. 

Sebastian County was the first county to be a part of the 100 Families initiative, which launched in 2018. The county was chosen for the initiative because of the high incarceration rate and the highest number of children in foster care in the state. Today, Sebastian County has seen a 50% decrease in the need for foster care and the city of Fort Smith has seen a 20% reduction in crime. 

The model for the 100 Families initiative was created by the non-profit Restore Hope, which works to reduce incarceration rates and the need for foster care. A key component of the initiative is software that was developed to allow service providers who are helping families in crisis to effectively communicate with one another and serve an individual holistically. 

 “It’s the community that has taken this model and is doing all the hard work,” said Restore Hope Executive Director Paul Chapman. “Service providers in Sebastian County have worked diligently to come together and use the software, called HopeHub, to help people in crisis. They are connecting with one another to serve an individual who is in need in many areas, from housing to transportation to childcare to therapy.”

“100 Families was one of the very first resources I used extensively to try to find alternative solutions to incarceration and help people go a different route,” said Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker. “Our overall crime rate has declined significantly in the past couple years. I think there is an association.” 

Paul Chapman, Abbie Cox, and Eddie Lee Herndon at the 5-year anniversary celebration of the 100 Families initiative
Video: 100 Families Initiative 5 Years Later

“Today, there’s a much greater effort to collaborate between the different organizations. Because we all want the same thing. We want our people to have a better quality of life and a safer community,” said Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion. “I think in the past we all did our own thing. There was some territorialism. But we started pulling in stakeholders to work together and we’ve educated ourselves about the needs of Sebastian County.” 

To date, the Sebastian County 100 Families initiative has served 1,390 parents and over 3,000 children. The initiative has expanded into sixteen counties in Arkansas. 

“It’s helped us work with new agencies,” said Heather Sanders, the executive director for the Community Rescue Mission in Fort Smith. “We’re a homeless shelter and so we need to connect families in crisis to as many resources as possible. And not only do we get to help families at a moment of crisis, but HopeHub allows us to follow them along all the way to career and see outcomes.”

Smart Justice is a magazine, podcast, and continuing news coverage from the nonprofit Restore Hope and covers the pursuit of better outcomes on justice system-related issues, such as child welfare, incarceration, and juvenile justice. Our coverage is solutions-oriented, focusing on the innovative ways in which communities are solving issues and the lessons that have been learned as a result of successes and challenges. 

The podcast is available on all major podcasting platforms.

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