Growing Our Collective Capacity

(From left) Rena Whittaker, The Contingent Arkansas; Jerome Strickland, The Contingent Arkansas; Mischa Martin,
Deputy Secretary of Youth and Families;
Dr. Phillip Goad,
Every Child Arkansas; Secretary Kristi Putnam, Department of Human Services; Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Ben Sand, The Contingent Arkansas; NJ Royer, The Contingent Arkansas; Paul Chapman, Restore Hope Arkansas;
and Tiffany Wright, Department of Children and Family Services
(From left) Rena Whittaker, The Contingent Arkansas; Jerome Strickland, The Contingent Arkansas; Mischa Martin, Deputy Secretary of Youth and Families; Dr. Phillip Goad, Every Child Arkansas; Secretary Kristi Putnam, Department of Human Services; Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders; Ben Sand, The Contingent Arkansas; NJ Royer, The Contingent Arkansas; Paul Chapman, Restore Hope Arkansas; and Tiffany Wright, Department of Children and Family Services

Struggling families need help from their communities in order to thrive. These efforts can't be left to the government alone.

“When alliances are formed between communities and governments, outcomes are best,” says Paul Chapman, CEO of Restore Hope Arkansas.

Perhaps no other state is as well positioned as Arkansas to improve conditions for children and families who are impacted by foster care by better supporting foster parents, case workers and the affected families. This is due to a coordinated effort called Every Child Arkansas, which has the support of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. ECA’s vision is to have more than enough for children and families before, during and beyond foster care.

The movement started with the creation of a website, everychildarkansas.org, which is the single point of contact for becoming a foster parent.

Additional support will be organized within each of Arkansas’ 75 counties. Pilot programs have been launched in both Pope and Green counties.

Organizations are already working within each county to help biological, kinship and foster families. They will join providers in the foster care space and create working groups to look at the local reality: How many children are in foster care? What is the bed-to-child ratio? How many of the county’s children are placed in foster homes outside of the county?

Who’s already doing what work? What resources are available in the community? What resources and services are missing?

“We ask the question: What is your community best equipped to address? Then we provide the support for that community to operationalize their interventions,” Chapman says.

“After we get Pope and Green counties going, there are six more counties right behind them – we will help with recruitment and start connecting the different parties. We start with counties where our collaborative 100 Families program already exists. We’ll begin moving as rapidly as possible.”

So far, Every Child Arkansas has a membership of 30 member organizations that are currently involved in foster care from across the state. These organizations are partnering with the Arkansas Departments of Education, Child and Family Services, and Public Safety. They’ll collectively engage the community, open more foster homes, provide support for foster families, and develop solutions.

It usually takes 6-12 months for a family to contemplate whether or not they would be a foster family, and then it takes at least 6 months to train them once they raise their hand.
PAUL CHAPMAN, CEO, RESTORE HOPE ARKANSAS

“If a family is falling apart, the best thing we can do is to rally around that family to help them get stable again. And if it’s not safe for a child to stay in the home, then the child’s got to be in a family-like setting. Which means the participation of the community is absolutely essential,” Chapman says.

Every Child Arkansas works through logistics and synthesis, and is supported by the organization The Contingent, which brings digital solu- tions and a national perspective.

“Collaboration makes the agencies more efficient, it helps them do what they’re already signed up to do,” Chapman says. “With that model and toolset, an environment is created in which problems can be solved.”

Much of the work is already being done but must be scaled to meet each community’s needs, he says. “We need to develop efficiencies that allow Arkansas organizations to do more of what they’re currently doing. More capacity, more people to offer skilled services, more families helping care for children who can’t be with their families, more community members doing small things to support the front lines.”


Arkansas has much of the money it needs to create solutions, particularly through dollars from the opioid settlement and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Chapman says. Prevention is a priority for Secretary Kristi Putnam of the Department of Human Services and Mischa Martin, Director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

“They are focusing the state on prevention. They’re aligning and strengthening programs that provide wraparound services in order to catch issues as early as possible, to prevent cases from

being opened, and keep an opened case from progressing in severity,” Chapman says.

“There are all sorts of solutions for reducing the number of kids entering the foster care system: jobs programs and substance abuse treatment and behavioral health. There are wonderful firms that already provide these services in these different regions. What we need for them to do, is to do more of it.”

When a family does enter the system, “we need speed out of the system - faster permanency decisions and quick connection to resources when someone has the ‘want-to.’ And if they don’t have the ‘want-to,’ then decisions also can be made quicker, where it doesn’t feel like a case is trailing on and on.”

Chapman says more trauma-informed services are needed.

“We’ve got a supply problem. The number of people who want to provide those services is diminished, because it’s a very hard thing. We’re talking about some of the toughest situations you’ll ever see.”

Post system, families need to continue to be measured even after a court case concludes, to prevent reunified families from falling back into trouble and therefore needing their child welfare case reopened. This means offering services beyond, he says.

“These families are falling apart for a multitude of reasons, but substance abuse is usually common. Substance abuse is a bandaid someone throws on to try to deal with pain, but it ends up causing much more pain in the long run,” Chapman says.

“If a family is falling apart, the best thing we can do is to rally around that family, to help them get stable again. And if needed, if it’s not safe for the child to stay in the home, then the child’s got to be in a family-like setting. Which means the participation of the community is absolutely essential. And that is one of the issues we are having right now. We’re missing about 40 percent of the needed foster families for the kids currently in care. Those aren’t government employees and never will be. They have to be families from Arkansas.

“We also need to better support foster families to lower their dropout rate. That work is really, really hard. It usually takes 6-12 months for a family to contemplate whether or not they would be a foster family, and then it takes at least 6 months to train them once they raise their hand. So you’re talking about huge lead times and massive investments just to open a foster home. We’ve got to support the families better to decrease the dropout rate.”

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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