LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There’s a foster care crisis in Arkansas. Last year, nearly 4,400 children were in the state’s care.
During the COVID season, more children have gone into the system; at the same time, some foster parents closed their doors for health and safety reasons.
The need to fill the void now so great that Governor Asa Hutchinson addressed the issue Friday.
Volunteers with the non-profit group The Call gathered for a pep talk from the governor.
“Stay in there, recruit others, encourage others and that’s how you make a difference not just for one generation, but for many different generations,” said Gov. Hutchinson.
Hutchinson thanked the foster care parents and volunteers for their service during an especially challenging year.
“During the season of COVID, we’ve seen an additional number of children who have come into care and they’re stressing the system,’ said Lauri Currier, Executive Director of The Call.
Currier says Pulaski County was hit the hardest during the pandemic.
“Pulaski County has 680 kids in foster care,” Currier said. “That’s the most in the entire state.”
That’s why The Call is calling on Arkansans to step up to help.
People like foster parent Tonya Ross, who has fostered more than 80 children and says the system is busting at the seams.
“Just today, I’ve gotten several text messages from counties all over the state looking for homes for children,” Ross said.
Dennis Berry has fostered about 90 children in Garland County and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“In our county, there’s almost 200 kids in foster care, there’s only 40-something homes,” Berry said. “There’s not enough homes and so we can’t say no.”
Berry says he gets two or three calls a day.
“Asking if we can keep a child just for one night even and so we can’t stop because there’s such a great need,” Berry said.
Ross understands people may be afraid to foster because they’ll get too attached to the kids. But she says that’s kind of the point.
“They need that attachment,” Ross said. “They need someone to love them and care for them unconditionally. We have a little one that we’re fostering right now and when he leaves our home, it’s gonna break my heart, that’s ok. Because my heart will heal.”
With the need much greater now than it’s ever been. their hope at The Call is that more people will answer the call to care for the little ones in Arkansas who can’t care for themselves.
Most children in the foster care system in Arkansas are there because of neglect or parent/guardian substance abuse.