Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Discusses Foster Care System

Gov. Huckabee Sanders issues an executive order designed to improve the foster care system
Gov. Huckabee Sanders issues an executive order designed to improve the foster care system
Restore Hope Executive Director Paul Chapman sat down with Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to ask the governor about improving the foster care system in Arkansas. Here is their conversation.
Q

Governor, thanks so much for sitting down with us to talk about children and families. One of your first acts after being sworn in as governor was to issue an executive order to protect children, support families, and improve the foster care system in Arkansas. Why?

A

For me, it’s simple. Arkansas is one of the most pro-life states in the entire country. I want to keep it that way. But I also want to make sure that we don’t end the fight to protect our kids after they’re born. Doing a much better job of taking care of the kids across the state of Arkansas is vitally important. We have about 4,100 kids that are in the foster care system here in the state of Arkansas. And we don’t have nearly enough families to take care of them.

So we created and started a working group, through the executive order, that will help us recruit more families, train and prepare those families, keep more kids out of the foster care system in the first place, and streamline the process so we can do a better job as a state taking care of kids in Arkansas.

Q

Governor, where is your personal passion around this driven from?

A

I don’t think there’s anything harder to see than a kid who doesn’t have a safe place, who doesn’t have a family, who doesn’t have someone who loves them and is advocating for them.

As a parent, I can’t imagine my kids being in an environment where they don’t feel like they are loved and cared for. Yet that, unfortunately, is what happens all too often here in the state of Arkansas. Any opportunity we have to help these kids feel loved and taken care of, we want to do that.

And I want my kids to see our love and care for children. And so when we have volunteered, we have taken our kids with us as much as possible, so that they can see the difference and hopefully be encouraged to help other people, too.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Q

Governor, what would success as a result of your executive order look like to you?

A

Success is those 4,100 kids that are in the system either never ending up there in the first place or having a family that takes them and loves them, cares for them and advocates for them for the long term.

Q

Many Arkansans may want to do something but do not know exactly what to do. What message do you have for them?

A

One of the biggest things is to be willing to step up and volunteer or participate. Even if you’re not somebody who can take a kid in as a foster parent, there are still a lot of things you can do and organizations you can volunteer your time with, or you can give financially to those organizations to help out the other fami- lies who are able to take those kids in.

Q

Governor, you named four organizations, three agencies, and then Every Child Arkansas. That was unusual, in my experience. Why did you include Every Child Arkansas as one of the organizations to develop the plan?

A

You have to have somebody to lead the effort. One of the things that I think has kept us from doing a better job in the past is not coordinating with all of the different organizations out there. And so bringing everybody to the table, having that collaboration and coordination through Every Child Arkansas will make such a huge difference.

One organization leading and bringing all the players to the table, I think, is going to give us the type of success that we’re looking for.

To kind of personalize it, we have an individual who works on our team. His family has four kids; three of them they have fostered and now adopted. And to see the difference that they’re making in these kids’ lives and how complete their family is with those three kids is unbelievably impactful. To see what is happening for each of those three children who otherwise would not have a loving home, who would not have somebody taking care of them in the way that they are. And to get to be around them and see the hap- piness and the joy that they bring to each other, but also to each of us, is pretty remarkable – and I think is such a testament not just to the people who are willing to take foster kids in, but ultimately for the impact that those kids will have on our lives as well.

Q

The LEARNS Act is going to make available dollars that a child, and possibly children in foster care, could use toward some type of alternative education. And it is my understanding that may be provided first to individuals in an at-risk category. Could you talk about that?

A

Absolutely. So ultimately our goal is, after three years, for every child in the state of Arkansas to be able to make a decision about where is best for them to be educated. We want to empower parents.

Every kid is different. As a mom of three, I can tell you that all three of my kids are very different. They have different needs. They learn differently. And making sure that they’re in an environment where they can best be successful is really important. And so we want to open that up to every student in the state, and for every family to be able to find the place that best fits their child’s needs.

And foster care kids are in the very first group that will have access and be able to make a decision, whether that is a public school, a private school, a charter school or home school. We want those kids to be some of the very first to be opted into that program and be able to decide what area is best for them to be educated.

Q

Let’s talk about the collaboration and coordination amongst entities involved in Every Child Arkansas.

A

One thing that has definitely never been missing from the organizations that are part of this working group is the passion that they have for the kids in the state of Arkansas.

What I think they were missing is the partnership between all of those different groups. Taking a passion that is so evident, and matching that with a partnership of all of the different organizations that are working in a similar space, I think gives us a lot more power to be successful. Taking each of the strengths and advantages these different groups have, putting them at one table, is going to help serve the kids of Arkansas in a way that we’ve never seen before.

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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