Our View: No easy fix for state’s broken DHS

Once again, we hear issues facing Arkansas largest and seemingly most troubled agency – the Department of Human Services. You know, and as we’ve pointed out, changing of the guard at this point is probably one of the best things to happen in order to address the problems facing this massive agency that employs hundreds and spends more that $8 billion to function. From the massive problems and the tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars tracking participants in the state’s welfare health care program to serious problems in the DHS foster care system only magnifies the urgency in putting in place the experienced leadership it will take to address the issues. Just recently, caseworkers in the state’s foster care system now claim they are overworked to the point that they quickly burn out and say that DHS management is putting them in an impossible situation. During a recent joint meeting of the Senate Children and Youth Committee and the House Aging, Children and Youth and Legislative and Military Affairs Committee, Lisa Jensen of Fort Smith, told lawmakers she and fellow caseworkers are simply “burned out”, and there is a dire need for serious changes to be made in dealing with the foster care system. Lawmakers heard Jensen, who is DCFS director for an area that includes Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Johnson, Scott and Yell Counties, that more than 900 children are in the foster care system, nearly 600 of them along in Sebastian County. She told lawmakers, “Any day we have 20 to 40 kids that we’re looking for placement for. We have to overload foster homes in order to have beds for our children so they don’t sleep in the offices at night.” Jenson went on to tell lawmakers that her caseworkers are working 60-hour weeks and sometimes not getting home until midnight or the early morning hours. “They’re burned out because of the hours they work and that the burn-outs lead to higher turnover, which creates even more problems. Jensen and her caseworkers seem to be among a number of the 7,500 DHS employees facing mounting problems and frustrations that should have been clearly addressed long ago. Case in point, Cassandra Scott, DCFS director for an area that includes Arkansas, Ashley, Desha, Chicot, St. Francis, Lee, Phillips, Monroe and Drew counties, told the panel of similar problems in the Delta. She said there are more than 300 children in the foster car system in her area and about 47 foster homes, so workers travel across the state placing children in homes in other areas. Lawmakers were told there are 4,599 children in the foster care system statewide, which is up from 3,200 in July. DCFS conducts between 3,000 and 3,200 child welfare investigations monthly, according to Cecile Blucker, state DCFS director. When turnover at the division is so high that a whopping 50 percent of caseworkers were hired just within the past year, there is a serious problem that leads all the way to the top and should have been addressed a long time ago. It is of utmost importance that this tremendously large and problematic state agency get its act together to address these very serious issues.

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