A Natural Response: Dr. Phillip Goad of Every Child Arkansas

Dr. Phillip
Goad and his wife Starla
sit on a porch at the
Second Chance Youth
Ranch. The ranch is a
private placement agency,
providing a community
of homes for children
and teens in foster care.
Dr. Phillip Goad and his wife Starla sit on a porch at the Second Chance Youth Ranch. The ranch is a private placement agency, providing a community of homes for children and teens in foster care.

Dr. Phillip Goad is a toxicologist who spent his career helping communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and environmental threats, and he's using those skills now to help strengthen Arkansas' system of foster care.

Dr. Goad feels he’s spent his career preparing for this work, particularly now that Gov. Sarah Sanders has prioritized child welfare. His ability to galvanize others to work together, along with his sense of humor and tendency to pinpoint efficiencies, makes him an ideal chair of the Executive Leadership Council for Every Child Arkansas, a coalition of almost 30 private organizations involved in foster care and adoption in Arkansas.

In 1982, Dr. Goad earned a PhD in interdisciplinary toxicology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and in 1997, he co-founded an environmental consulting firm in Little Rock called CTEH. He confronted crisis, desperation and loss in communities experiencing disasters and environmental threats such as disease outbreaks, floods, hurricanes, train derailments and oil spills. There’s a correlation between environmental crisis and child welfare, Dr. Goad says, which he depicts by showing a photograph of an oil-filled rail car exploding in a spectacular fireball after a derailment. It was taken during a disaster that CTEH helped manage.

“It is a good picture of what it’s like for a child to be removed from his or her family. All of a sudden, everything they know is gone, it’s different, it’s changed,” Dr. Goad says. “I have a sense of a need for urgency and readiness for us to respond, because 2,500 to over 3,000 times a year, that happens to a child’s life in Arkansas.”

Since 2012, Dr. Goad and his wife have worked with Lifesong for Orphans to help build schools in Ethiopia and Zambia. He joined the Board of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, formed in Arkansas by national leaders in child welfare who were chal- lenged to “leave logos and egos at the door and start working together on behalf of children and families,” he says.

He became part of the group’s national movement, More Than Enough, with a vision of “more than enough for children and families before, during and beyond foster care in every county in the U.S.”). In 2011, he trained to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

After selling his company and retiring, Dr. Goad plunged more deeply into the child welfare arena in 1991, helping to form Every Child Arkansas. The movement advances the goals of More Than Enough by establishing broad objectives and facilitating collaboration between organizations in Arkansas to carry them out. Dr. Goad won’t be satisfied until every child in every county of our state has a family and more than enough resources and support to prosper.

When Gov. Sanders took office, she quickly issued an executive order for a partnership with Every Child Arkansas and three state agencies – the Departments of Human Services, Education and Public Safety. The public and private entities are sharing data, measurements, and goals to create collective impact.

In Arkansas, almost 60 percent of foster families drop out each year. Just to maintain the number of homes, already less than what we need, a staggering 900 to 1,000 families must be recruited and trained each year.

“When you talk about foster care you’re going to hear the words ‘not enough,’ Dr. Goad says. “We don’t have enough resources, we don’t have enough families, we don’t have enough support. And we believe that we can have more than enough if we come together. It is really exciting to be in a state where the opening line of the executive order from the governor says, ‘Whereas children are a special gift from God.’ I was proud and thankful to be in a state where, at the very top level, that’s how we feel.”

In Dr. Goad’s work as a CASA, he is appointed by a judge to follow one child in state custody, to delve into the child’s experience at school and within the foster home, and meet the biological parent(s) and follow their progress toward reunification. If the child changes foster homes, Dr. Goad can soften the transition by familiarizing a new foster family and teachers with the child’s needs and situation. He provides constancy, a connection, amongst the shifting people and perspectives.

“If an issue comes up in the classroom or home, or with the child’s health, I try to find out what’s go- ing on and bring that information back to the whole team that is serving the child and say here’s what I think. A CASA’s role is to speak up for that child.”

Dr. Goad noticed that many individuals and groups are working to help children, but they aren’t always operating collectively.

“The first time I heard the concept of ‘more than enough,’ my first thought was, actually, that seems impossible.” But he pushed forward, determining that “with God all things are possible. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

In Arkansas, about 75 percent of children who aren’t placed with relatives end up in foster care in a different county – forced to leave their schools, friends, neighbors and communities – and compounding their fright.

A key strategy is engaging the faith community, Dr. Goad says, because churches are particularly good at supporting their congregations – and foster parents in these congregations need lots of support to stay in the game.

“We find that, when there is wraparound support from the faith communities, the percentage of fam- ilies that feel they can stay in it longer increases,” he says. “And then you have more experienced foster families who can do a better job of taking care of kids. They’re stronger and more equipped.”

This has been demonstrated in Arkansas by several private entities that partner with the state to recruit, train and support foster and adoptive families. Most, but not all, are affiliated with communi- ties of faith. These agencies have been successful.

The state’s Division of Child and Family Services has come to increasingly rely on these agencies, and it now aims within five years to focus primarily on kinship care – placing children with relatives or fictive kin (teachers, coaches and others who already know children) – and allowing private agencies to handle the recruiting, training, licensing and supporting of traditional foster families.

“We already know that when foster families are in a private placement agency, they are supported in a robust and full way, and the retention rate is higher. And I think the state believes, and we believe, there are better outcomes through these private agencies who can support the families,” Dr. Goad says.

A small percentage of people are going to be foster families; but a huge number of people, virtually anybody, can do something."

“We also have the blessing of working along- side the committed and talented leadership and county-level staff of DCFS to care for children and families in our state.”

Every Child Arkansas has teamed with The Contingent to engage in an “air game” that uses the internet and social media to market, tell stories and help make one-on-one connections to recruit foster parents, using data generated by Acxiom that pinpoints families likely to have higher interest and success in fostering. And daunting as the system-ic problems may be, Dr. Goad insists that starting small and local is key to awakening a desire to help in our communities. One doesn’t have to be a foster parent to help – in fact, success hinges on community, household-level support of foster families, children, and workers.

“The reality is that a small percentage of people are going to be foster families; but a huge number of people, virtually anybody, can do something,” Dr. Goad says. “In small ways or big ways, this is where the community can really come together. By doing something as simple as a thank-you note. A dinner. A gift card. An offer to watch the kids. Something as simple as, I’ll get my motor vehicle record and a background check and then I’ll go pick up foster kids from school and bring them home or bring them to the doctor.”

The website everychildarkansas.org connects volunteers with existing organizations and ef- forts in their community. Enter your zip code, see a list of agencies operating in your area – and ask to connect.

“We believe in the continuum of engagement, that some people will say yes to just one small thing. For example, you could pack a welcome box so that in the middle of the night when a child is pulled out of his or her home, there’s something the case worker could hand them. That is something really simple, all the way up to providing respite care for foster families – watching their children while they take a break, while they get away with their husbands or wives or family. There are a lot of things you can do short of fostering. And what we’ve seen is that as people get further and further into helping, in sometimes very small ways, that engagement grows and that becomes a place where people eventually feel that call and say, ‘I think I could do that. I think I could take a child into my home and be a foster parent.’”

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. 

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