Governor Hutchinson's Weekly Address: Foster Families Answering the Call
LITTLE ROCK – May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, and today I’d like to thank our foster families and all the people who work so hard to put our neediest children in homes and other safe settings.
In my five years as governor, I have watched with admiration and gratitude as private citizens, many of them from the faith community, have toiled alongside employees of state agencies to reduce the number of children in foster care. They’ve reduced the number of children in foster care by more than 15 percent. The number was reduced from 5,200 in 2015 to the current 4,400.
The mission to take in foster children and to match with foster parents is a challenge on the easiest of days. The COVID-19 pandemic has added an unexpected layer of difficulty.
One challenge unique to COVID-19 is the understandable fear that a child placed into a foster home has been exposed to the coronavirus. Foster parents must consider the risk of accepting a child with the virus. At least one child placed in a home has tested positive.
But as Lauri Currier, executive director of The Call indicated, the family took the positive test in stride. As Lauri said, they did what these families do. They took care of the child and the other members of the family. They self-quarantined.
The Call is a faith-based organization whose members find and train foster families and supports them spiritually and financially. The Call is the largest nonprofit in Arkansas that is devoted to assisting foster children and families. As members of The Call began to comprehend that COVID-19 was going to be a problem, they determined the virus wouldn’t stop their work.
The county coordinators work closely with their families and know their needs. Volunteers bought and delivered meals and other necessities so the families could stay at home.
The Call conducts regular mandatory training sessions for families that want take in foster children. The leaders weren’t willing to let the limit on the size of gatherings put the training on hold. They developed a virtual program and trained 173 people, which represented about 85 families.
Our social-distancing requirements meant canceling the annual Walk for the Waiting fundraiser at War Memorial Stadium. But the three sponsoring organizations – The Call, Immerse, and Project Zero – refused to cave to the illness. They organized neighborhood walks, and last weekend, they raised a hundred-and-six thousand dollars.
We recognize the important work of foster parents and the sacrifices they make. For that reason, the CARES Act Steering Committee, which my administration created to oversee the distribution of federal assistance in Arkansas, recommended a one-time payment of $500 to any foster family that provided overnight care to at least one child between March 11 and April 30. It is a small way for us to thank those who take on financial challenges and health risks during this time.
Family challenges don’t stop for pandemics. New children in need of care arrive regularly. But those who are there to help children in the foster-care system haven’t let the pandemic stop them. As Lauri Currier of The Call said, kids lives are at stake. They can’t put their work on hold.
Thanks to people such as Lauri and our childcare workers and many others whose names we'll never know, the needy children in Arkansas are finding a safe place to go and lots of love when they get there.