BATESVILLE, Ark. – Since 2015, Arkansas has faced a significant foster care crisis.
With approximately 1,600 foster homes across the state, the current capacity only meets half the demand of children needing a safe place to call home.
The system is overloaded with kids unable to be placed.
It’s an unimaginable reality for so many, but Isaac Tugg spent years in the Arkansas foster care system before he arrived at the Arkansas Sheriffs Youth Ranch in Independence County.
“We were kind of just moving house to house just trying to find somewhere to sleep,” Tugg explained.
The now 17-year-old said at times in his childhood at home before he was removed from his family that he didn’t have much to eat and sometimes couldn’t shower.
“My mom was on drugs heavily, and when my dad was around he was very abusive and he was always drunk,” Tugg recalled.
Thousands of kids just like Tugg have lived or currently live in similar situations, according to Julie Brightwell with the Department of Human Services.
“Right now in Independence County, we have about 55 children in foster care. However, in Arkansas we have about 3,900 children in foster care today,” Brightwell said, adding that, “our goal is to have more than enough foster homes.”
But with an overloaded system, some say changes need to be made. That is where the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches in Independence County fills a gap.
Nancy Fulton, the CEO of Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, fought back tears as she recounted stories of kids when they first stepped foot on the property, kids just like Tugg.
“It will wreck your heart sometimes,” Fulton said. “We are so honored that we can do this work.”
The ranches provide so much for the thousands of kids who have called the Independence County property home over the 47 years it has been open.
They typically accept children ages 6 to 17, and the kids live in homes with house parents in hopes of giving them a real family feel.
“We try and help them understand it’s good to cook a meal and everyone help and sit down together and have a conversation and then everyone help clean up,” Fulton said. “It’s good to have chores.”
This lifestyle often leads to an adoption, which was the case for Tugg. Emily and Philip Ives became his adoptive parents and say he is integral to their family.
“Right now we couldn’t imagine life without Isaac. He’s our oldest son,” Philip Ives said.
Both Emily and Philip shared that the journey was not easy but well worth it, and they encourage others to foster or adopt in hopes of reducing the number of kids without a safe place to call home.
“Every child needs to be loved and if you can provide the love to that child there is nothing more than that,” Philip Ives said. If you are interested in adopting or fostering, you are encouraged to find more information at TheCallInArkansas.org or TheProjectZERO.org.