Senate Children and Youth and House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs committees (meeting jointly)

August 23, 2022

 

Fite Welcome, everyone. We’re going to go ahead and get started. We have some exciting things to hear today. First, we need to approve the June 21 meeting minutes. That’s exhibit B in your packet. Do I see a motion? Okay. All right. We don’t need one. Well, that’s right we do need one in the interim. And next, we have a very exciting presentation. Oh, I’m sorry. All those in favor, say aye. Opposed, say no. All right. We have a presentation of Restore Hope, also known as 100 Families Operation. In your packet, that is exhibit C. And this is a very exciting organization. They have already done some wonderful things for the state of Arkansas. Their director, Karen Phillips, lives in my district. And so it’s really a joy, Karen, for you to be here with us today. And Paul Chapman, the executive director, is also here with her. So if you will both come forward and we will hear from you at this time. If you’ll just sit at the end of the table. And members, if you’ll just hold your questions until the end of their presentation. Make sure your mic is on, Karen, and you may need to pull it towards you a bit. 

 

Phillips Okay. 

 

Fite And first, introduce yourself to us, both of you, and then we’re ready for you. 

 

Phillips Okay. Karen Phillips. I am the 100 Families director for Restore Hope Arkansas. 

 

Chapman And I’m Paul Chapman, the executive director for Restore Hope Arkansas. 

 

Phillips I just want to first thank you, Representative Fite, for inviting us here today. We’re very excited to tell you about the organization and, and the initiatives that we’ve been working on. And whenever Governor Hutchinson took office, Arkansas had the fastest growing prison population in the nation. And at the same time, foster care, of course, was just multiplying at the same kind of rate as incarceration. And so, so the governor, of course, called the faith community– many of you might remember that– to a Restore Hope summit. And then Paul Chapman, our founder and executive director, had written a paper to Governor Hutchinson about how to use collective impact to make a, make an impact in this area and have better outcomes for communities. And Governor Hutchinson said, yes, that’s great. Go do it. And so, so we have been working on that since. At the time all of this was going on, I was working at another organization and I did mainly housing and some social service programs and things like that. But I was drawn actually by Project Zero’s videos and, and, and stories and just couldn’t ignore it any longer and became a foster parent myself. That definitely changed my life. I grew an overwhelming desire to not only help the children, but help the families that were involved in my children’s lives. So they’re, they’re parents, and I’m really grateful to say that they were able to successfully go home. In fact, the 2-year-old boy that I got just turned 8 this past weekend, and he’s been home for about four years with his mom. And we celebrated at my house. And so it’s just a joy that, that I can see kind of the outcomes of families supporting other families in this way. And so that brought me to Paul and to Restore Hope with a desire to really impact the foster care system by, by really helping these families that I knew were struggling. And so Restore Hope uses a collective impact model to reduce foster care and incarceration. And we act as a backbone organization for several initiatives. One of them, and that’s the one I’m going to speak mostly about today, is called the 100 Families Initiative. And I actually was hired by Restore Hope in 2018, and we launched our initiative in 2019. We also have just began a new initiative, Every Child Arkansas, which is just about providing more than enough support for bio families, more than enough adoptive homes, and more than enough foster homes, and more than enough support for DCFS in Arkansas. And then a Smart Justice Initiative, which we will hand out our inaugural magazine today to all of you. You can tell I’m very excited about that. And a reentry program, a housing development arm and a second chance education program. So how do we do collective impact? What is collective impact? So we align partners in communities with a common goal. That is so important is that we get the community involved. It’s not just about, you know, government providing solutions. You all know that we need community to provide solutions. And so we get together all the parties involved, and we form what’s called an alliance. And that’s what we’ve done with 100 Families as we have launched alliances in six counties now. So we started in Sebastian and then went to Crawford and to Pulaski and to White County. And then we found two other organizations that said, Hey, we really want to launch 100 Families. And we didn’t have the funding to provide to them. And they said, we have the funding, we want to, we want to launch 100 Families. We’ll use your model, your methods, your system and, and, and they did. And so a church in Russellville in Pope County is launching and a Texarkana in Miller County has launched as well. So we use common measurements. So everyone who is enrolled in the 100 Families Initiative– and these are parents that are struggling. They’re TANF eligible parents. Everyone that is enrolled, no matter where they, what organization enrolls them, all use the same kind of assessment up front and measurements on the back end so that we can truly track outcomes for families. We connect to existing community resources. So we know that every community has resources. Navigating those resources are difficult, is a difficult task, but we help connect everyone in the community to those existing community resources and we provide a HIPAA compliant communication across all sectors. So whether it be housing and transportation, education, employment, recovery, mental health, all of those things, we, we bring a HIPPA compliant system that allows communication across sectors because the families themselves have given permission for their, for their, them to have a care team as set up with different community organizations working towards common goals. And then we provide that background support. So 100 Families is a community led initiative that helps move families from crisis to stability and on to career. And we use those existing community resources. We engage community partners and we train them on that collaborative case management system. And we recruit them to respond whenever a family is in crisis. So trying to not only serve, you know, families that are involved with DCFS, so that have a case where their children have been placed in foster care, and also protective services case, where their children are still in the home and have a protective safety plan, but also moving way upstream and preventing families from ever entering the child welfare system by helping them immediately during their crisis. So the families we serve. We serve the neediest of the needy in our communities. And one out of three of our parents had a suspended driver’s license. 43% have been a victim of domestic violence. One out of every three had, had been convicted of a felony. And 72% had been to jail or prison. Half of them were in need of child care services. Half of all our families had no income from any source at intake. 47% did not have their GED or high school diploma. 20%, or one out of every five, did not have SNAP benefits or income. And one out of every four were homeless. So you can see our families are definitely the neediest in the communities that, that we serve. So TANF is the primary funding source for the 100 Families Initiative. And so that means that we have to provide TANF eligibility services across the state. And we do that through our system. We’ve built this system to, to help communities be able to serve TANF eligible clients and have the proper documentation to show that they’re verified as eligible, which is a very important part of using TANF money. And then we also have a UAMS child abuse prevention grant. And so that has an added additional case manager with a warm line for DCF escorts in Sebastian, and they actually attend courts. Many of our case managers throughout the different communities do attend either, you know, the child welfare court cases, the district courts, and, and even criminal courts as well, circuit courts. We have a partnership with Public Knowledge that is helping us build a parent advisory panel here in Pulaski County and adding differential response case managers. And we are building our asset map so that DCFS– this is one of the ways we want to really support DCFS, because case managers have lots and lots and lots of training on many things, but sometimes resources aren’t, are hard for them to find and understand what all is out there. And so we’re building on those asset maps and training DCFS on what those, those resource connections are. So that’s something that we’re working on for the future just so you know, and that’s a new partnership. DHS Family Stability Program. So we were able to get some of the ERA money, the emergency rental assistance money to help struggling families with rent, utilities. Incentives to work with case management and accountability. I put that in there because that is the premise of all of our initiatives is that we use our programs to help move people forward in life. And we want– so if a family is in crisis and they need inpatient recovery and that’s what they really need right now, then that’s what we’re going to help them get. And we’re not going to just put someone with no income that is currently using meth into a house. We’re going to make sure that the proper steps are taken and that people are served and helped, but in a way that will help them be successful. And then we have Delta Regional Authority that’s added vocational training, and we focus a lot on vocational training and helping our parents, moms and dads get into different careers that are long term. So we’ve had welding schools, trucking schools, different, different types of scholarships available. So I wanted to show you the growing number of enrollments in 100 Families. That’s what this slide is for. So you can see in August of 2021, we enrolled 63 new families that month. And you can see in July of 2022, just a month ago, we enrolled 138 families in one month. So we are growing exponentially and we believe that this number will probably be above 100 new families every month from now on, and especially as we add new communities. So the progress report for just the month of July, so this shows 147 families, which includes some, some outside organizations that enroll families that were on that previous slide. But there’s 964 active families. So our families that are served in 100 Families on average stay in the initiative for eight months, and some of them are in for two and a half years or three years. I have cases that have been that long and then some are much shorter, but an average of eight months because that’s how long it takes for us to get them the services they need and get them moved towards stability. We have 2,215 children currently being served and you’ll see the impact as far as the actual outcomes that the community is seeing. 85% increase in the number of families who are stably housed. There’s been a 71% increase in the number of families with full time employment, and there’s 125% increase in the number of families that are financially stable. And we actually assess this and analyze this on 13 different areas. So if you ever want a really big outcome report, we have on a monthly basis about 100 different pages we can send you on outcomes. We do have quite the large amount of data. 

 

Chapman The total number of clients so far.  

 

Phillips Since just August 1 of 2021, we’ve served 1,681 and then 2,324 to date. 

 

Chapman I’d add that, that this is a– for– I’ve been in direct– I left financial technology, FinTech, about 17 years ago to kind of do this professionally. And it was all around trying to solve the problem for folks getting out of prison. And I thought, you know, that’d be quite easy because we’re serving, we’re solving hard problems for banks that were acquiring other banks. Surely we can fix this. 17 years later, I’d say it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it might be. But the, we are now at a point in Arkansas where we’ve got scalable infrastructure that can be placed into a community that allows the existing resources in the community to optimize its connections amongst each other. It’s a systems approach. So instead of trying– what I often did and, and many of my friends and partners often did was we would look at a section of the service delivery community and you try to optimize a section. We do really well in an educational program, but folks that are in deep crisis actually are on average in usually three areas. And so if we couldn’t address housing and you’ve got children at home and you know you’re getting kicked out on Friday, it was hard to get someone to come back on Monday to the trucking school program. And so, but there’s housing programs out there, but they’re not connected with, not to the degree that actually operationalizes the ability to partner together. And so that’s what we’ve spent all these years now working on. And now we’re trying to multiply this to other communities that would want to actually work together in this way. 

 

Phillips Thank you. And these are our family preservation and reunification outcomes. We’re so very proud of this. So when a family works with DCFS, they have a 43% chance right now of reuniting with their children. But when we come alongside DCFS and we work with the caseworker and we help encourage the family, then we see a 76% reunification rate for those that are enrolled in 100 Families as well. And so that was– that comes up to 126 families reunited through our program, 344 children that were united with their families. And even greater still in our minds is the number of children that we’ve been able to keep in their home safely without the trauma of removal. And that’s 2,638 children that safely remained in their homes. 1,183 families preserved. So this is a little bit about our system. It’s called Hope Ark. It’s– it does TANF eligibility determination, data collection, across– real time data across the state, compliant communication. We use the system to help resolve legal issues through a court resolution team and enables our clients to get their driver’s license back, and then also client goal setting. So putting our clients kind of at the driver’s wheel and saying, okay, what do you want your life to look like from here on out? Let’s start working towards that. So I wanted to show you a screenshot and I’ve removed any data, any information that had personally identifiable information in it. But this is a screenshot from the system itself and I wanted to show you how it works. So this is a real case and it has those octagons– those aren’t octagons– hexagons that are up in the right corner there in the middle. And those represent different people on a care team for a family. So this is a specific family and those are all the people working together on a care team to help this family. And so the care team members on average, each case has seven different providers working for the family. Any provider that wants to go in and see the consents and see if they’re– we are, HIPAA, FERPA, COPPA compliant, then they can go in and actually view the consents, download them, print them, put them in their files. And then there is a full assessment in 13 different areas completed both at intake and then every month thereafter that we can get a hold of the client. Of course, you know that month might skip or something here and there, but we maintain this, this scale of progress or regress in some cases, obviously, showing, you know, on a month to month basis where these families are at the end of the month. So whether you work for, example, the Community Rescue Mission in Fort Smith and, and you are a family mission that takes families with children, you can enroll in the system, use the assessment, and we will all join that team and say, hey, we’re going to be part of this family’s care team. And whatever you can’t do, somebody on this care team can do to help provide support to this family. 

 

Chapman That would include, in the care team, it could be a parole or probation officer in a district court or in ACC. It could include caseworker, caseworker supervisor from DCFS. And so the ability in very complex issues that a lot of Arkansans or that would come into contact with DCFS or ACC or a district court and not do well. There are some authorities that are involved in their lives, but they can be added to this case and see real time what’s actually going on, which allows the group now to coordinate better. And so you’ll see those outcomes that we were showing earlier largely is done through the ability to have this constant communication and awareness of what’s really happening. 

 

Phillips And so that is in addition to the area of the system that manages that monthly assessment and tracking progress. We also have a message board and that’s what you see some clips from is the compliant communication in the care team where everyone is, is, is working together to come up with a plan and solutions for barriers that the families are facing. So our goal is to expand the 100 Families Initiative and Every Child, which you’ll hear about here in a moment to the top 25 counties in Arkansas. And so what every community needs in order to launch 100 Families to have this initiative is an alliance. So you have to have community support. You have to have community members that are willing to work together. We actually have them sign something called a declaration of participation, just basically saying that, hey, we’re going to work together. We’re going to put aside our own agendas and whatever helps the family, that’s what we’re here to do, not  for our own glory. And so that’s why we call it 100 Families, is because 100 Families is not an entity. Restore Hope is the entity that provides the backbone support. But we want everyone in a community to own 100 Families. So you must have an alliance. You must use the system, which is the Hope Ark collaborative case management system for both communication and assessment. And there has to be case managers. You can call them case managers, navigators, community liaisons, lots of different things. But basically someone that is going to make sure that this family doesn’t get dropped, that there is someone that is responsible for the constant updates and communication. And so you can see kind of a plan for statewide rollout that we would someday like to see. So the expansion methods for 100 Families, because we just really, we know that this is successful and helping families. And so we would love for it to expand. We can do affiliate agreements, which is, of course, little to no cost to TANF. We have done sub grants in different communities and then also company stores basically where we are hiring all of the case managers ourself and running the program directly. So doing direct service as well. So Restore Hope, as far as the backbone, of course we own the Hope Ark case management system. We make sure that the system is kept up to date, that it’s constantly being developed, that the data analysis is done with, with integrity, and we are always seeking resources and partners for our counties, and so we help them obtain additional grants. They can use our data to, to obtain grants. It’s their data. So it’s community data. We have a case management training course that we require case managers, even if they work for other organizations, to go through so that they can, you know, understand their ethical requirements as far as when you work with a family in need. We have technical assistance, monthly calls with each coordinator. So the coordinator role is extremely important in each community. It holds the alliance together and brings along new organizations that want to be a part. And then, of course, we monitor any affiliates or sub grants. This next initiative, which is very new, is that until there’s more than enough for every child is what I like to say, the goal is that there would be enough for every child in Arkansas. And that’s, I explained to you a little bit about what that was just a moment ago. But we work together to align all the organizations serving children before, during and after foster care. So many of the organizations you probably have heard from in this, you know, in these different, in this legislative committee are on a team and communicating frequently, which we know communication is key to really making a change and and removing duplication of services and just helping our families to have better outcomes. So we communicate through working groups. We’ve hired a coordinator, Shane Baker. He’s a foster adoptive parent in the past and, and, and a pastor as well. And he is leading that effort. And we’ve had over $1,000,000 pledged in private funding. This has all been paid for through private funding so far, and we’ve been using shared measurements for success. So we are– this is– like I said, it’s brand new, but we’re going to be looking at, you know, are we increasing the number of foster homes that are opened specifically around the needs that the department has? So in other words, if they need homes open for children that have special needs or they need them for teenagers or larger sibling groups, how are we targeting to get those kinds of families? And then, of course, we will be looking at reunifications and the decrease of DCFS turnover. And, you know, how are we affecting that? By supporting DCFS, by letting them know that we do care and support and know how difficult their job is and that we know that whenever there’s turnover that causes a great deal of hardship for families. And so we want to help with that. And that’s what one of the goals of this initiative is. Smart justice. And so we’re very excited about this. And this is an outcome of a series of trips up to Winthrop Rockefeller Institute called IR3. And it’s called Incarceration Reentry, Reunification and Recidivism. And we were in, as we work together on different working groups at IR3 at Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, we realized that people in general just don’t know about these different ways to support the community, to reduce incarceration, to reduce foster care, to provide support in communities, to provide alternatives like in district courts that we’re seeing across the state of Arkansas, diversionary courts. And, we get a lot of our families actually enrolled through those courts. But so Smart Justice is that, is our method of getting the word out. And I hope that you get a chance to read these articles. I mean, they are just outstanding and they’re, they’re well written and I’m just really proud of it. So and then we will start a series of podcasts as well. And those will, the first one will be released on September 7. 

 

Chapman Yeah, we’ll release– did you say– we’re releasing two per year. After we kind of climb, we ascend Petit Jean Mountain and the wisdom of the group comes out, we will then come out of that meeting with a particular subject in which there’s a unified voice on a particular deal. So this one’s about the family, the importance of the family in justice issues, whether it be child welfare or otherwise. The next one will be around the importance and the opportunity that we have in Arkansas by engaging folks in district court, because there is a very particular way you can identify some folks that are starting down a slide into real trouble, and we can find them there and offer them help and a way out. 

 

Phillips Okay, I am, I know we are kind of short on time. The rest of these are really self-explanatory. They’re smaller initiatives that we work on in the city of Little Rock jail. We have a housing development arm that just also came out of WRI, which is, we saw the great need for affordable housing in the state of Arkansas. And we know that it’s not being developed because nonprofits that want to provide transitional housing and different types of housing don’t necessarily know how to access the funding. So since we have that expertise on staff, we’re going to begin to help communities doing that. And we have several communities that have asked for that help and then also a second chance education grant. Do you want to talk about that? 

 

Chapman Pell Grant. In 1994 with the passage of the crime bill, we stopped allowing Pell Grant to be used in jails and prisons. A number of years ago, there was an experimental program in Arkansas. It was Shorter College and ASU Newport that were allowed to do Pell Grant inside of prisons. It looks like next summer that that’s going to become widely available to all Title 4 schools. We added two more schools in the expansion of the experimental step this summer. It was SEArk in Pine Bluff and, I think it was Philander Smith was the other one. And so in a partnership with SEArk, we’re helping them launch with 30 students in Varner and in Cummins. So incarcerated students here with the idea that if we can get some best practice and some faculty that would like to travel and work for multiple schools, then we can help colleges and community colleges across Arkansas when second chance Pell becomes widely available next year actually start to turn our jails and prisons into opportunities for jobs. We need 4,000 truck drivers in Arkansas today. It takes one month to get there. There’s money and, and workforce we owe and many other Department of Labor that would actually get someone there. And so how do we scale the ability to train truck drivers and welders? 

 

Phillips All right. We would entertain any questions, if you have any, at this time. 

 

Fite Well, members, you can see why I was so excited to get them before you and to hear the actual change that we’re seeing in Arkansas families due to the efforts of this group. Do we have any questions? I’m not seeing any questions. Do we have your contact information so that if we want to– is it in the– 

 

Phillips You can tell that this is my first time here. 

 

Chapman Representative Fite, we’ll make sure that you have it. Wait, can we give it to you? 

 

Fite If you will send it to Blake and then he will send it out to our members. 

 

Chapman Great. Thank you very much. 

 

Fite All right. Thank you so much. Thank you for being with us. Next on our agenda, we have Christie Erwin from Project Zero Operations. How many of you are familiar with Project Zero? Raise your hands. Okay. Quite a few of you have but some of you have not. They have a wonderful Facebook page if you want to go. Not right now, but later you can go on to their Facebook page and see some of the exciting things that they are doing. And it will break your heart, but also inspire you. So, Christie, thank you for being with us today. And I think we’re going to get your slides ready to go. 

 

Erwin Well, I am definitely not as deep into a presentation, but I have a couple of things that I want to show you in a few minutes. But I just want to say what an honor it is to be here today. It’s an honor to be able to share Project Zero’s work, but it’s even more of an honor to get to be a voice for the 292 children who today are waiting in Arkansas foster care for a forever family and to get to be their face today is an absolute honor to be before you. So thank you. I want to start out with just telling you a little bit about myself. I am a wife, a mom. I have six children that range in age from 35 down to 13. We have two daughter-in-laws, a son-in-law and five grandchildren. So it’s like Family Circus every day in our house except that we just moved our 19 year old to college on Saturday, which left us one at home. And we’re like, what do we do with ourselves? It is just crazy. But about– my venture into foster care and adoption started almost 30 years ago on a random January afternoon as I sat in a rocking chair, rocking my 1 year old daughter, who is now 30 with two daughters of her own. As I began to rock her, I began to look just into her sweet little face. She was asleep and my two preschool boys were in bed, which was a miracle. And as I looked into her face, I just began to think of all the children who had no one to rock them on that afternoon, and the mommas who were struggling and the families who were struggling and how blessed I was to be able to sit there in that moment and rock my child. And in the course of about 30 minutes, my life changed forever because I felt like God said to me in that moment, it is time to do more than say you’re pro life. The world has seen enough marching and picketing and judgment. What they need to see from you is action. And I– He gave me the words to a song that I sang and when Jeff got home from work, I sang him this whole song. And I think he thought I’d been with preschoolers a little too long. But I said, We’ve got to do something, and I don’t know what that something is. Well, that something led us to 19 years of foster care, 11 with a private, nonprofit adoption agency where we fostered newborns. It was like being perpetually, perpetually pregnant, constantly fostering a newborn. And then our last years were through the state of Arkansas, for, for eight years. And so my journey began in foster care in adopting our two youngest children. And then a huge shift came and changed to advocacy as I founded Project Zero in 2011. Project Zero is a privately funded 501c3 with one goal, and that goal is to have zero kids in foster care in this state who are waiting to be adopted. Once we get there, we’ll help other states. We get that question all the time. Would you be willing to come to New Jersey or wherever? No. We’ve got to get to zero at home. And so that’s our goal. And the kids are the reason that we do what we do. Everything we do revolves around them. We are thinking about them 24/7. We are fighting for them 24/7. And, and so that, that is us in a nutshell. It’s very simple. We do that by doing three things. It started this way in 2011. It has grown. It has morphed into bigger and more. We started in 2011 by kind of going off the chain and cutting an album. We thought, Why not? Let’s go to Nashville and cut an album. So we did that. It bombed, like, because we didn’t know how to– we didn’t know how to promote an album. But we did it because we wanted to raise awareness. It is still available. We only ordered 1,000 copies and we still have those available. So feel free to get on our website and order one or we’ll throw one in free if you just want to tell us you want one. But the first way we do that is by raising awareness and that involves several different things. One of the things is when Misha took office six years ago, I think. I’m not sure. We took over the States Heart Gallery. We were already doing that and we just took it over. And so the Heart Gallery is a collection of photographs by professional photographers who come and shoot photos of our kids showing their personalities. They’re just who they are. It’s just, it’s a beautiful thing. And so we have that online. We have three traveling galleries, one in Northwest Arkansas that travels down to Fort Smith and that area, and then two in Central Arkansas that travel south and whichever other way they need to travel. And so there’s something about hearing– you know, there are 292 kids here waiting. And that number, you think, man, you know, that, that’s a lot of kids. But when you walk up to the Heart Gallery exhibit or you get online and I would challenge you to get online and I would challenge you to look in the faces of our kids who need families. It will move you. So when you hear the number, it’s, it’s profound. But when you see the faces, it compels you and you can’t look away because it’s your child and my child and something has to be done. But then we begin to realize that, okay, you’ve got a picture and that compels you. What else could we do? So about eight years ago, we began working with filmmaker Nathan Willis, who now lives in New Orleans, and comes back to Arkansas because we won’t let him go, to shoot short films featuring our waiting kids. And those films give kids the opportunity to share their own truths in their own words and in their own way, as much or as little as they would like to share. And we have seen some profound outcomes from people who never dreamed they would adopt. Walking into that, we had, we had a boy who had been waiting for six years and the family had opened their home. They had two little boys and they plan to adopt a little girl. They saw his short film and they looked at each other and said, We must pursue him. And he went from being a child in foster care in a facility to being a son simply because he was able to share his own story. So I want you to know, the neat thing about the short films is they can be anything from light and whimsical where, you know, siblings are poking each other and giggling and saying, you better back off during the thing. It can be a child that says, well, if I got adopted, I would probably turn into your rainbow, you know. And he did get adopted. I don’t think he turned into a rainbow. But to just fun things where they talk about they want to be in the NBA, they love candy. And if they had $1 million, they’d buy a truckload of candy. But there are times, most times when Nathan and I sit there as the filming is going on with our heads down and tears in our eyes as we listen to the truths that these kids share. They want to be home. They want a new chance. And so today I selected one of those hard ones simply because I want you to understand the depth of what we’re dealing with. And so I want to introduce you to 15 year old Samuel. And Blake’s going to start this for me. Am I in the way? Okay. And, and this is just a little taste. We’ve shot over 350 short films, probably closer to 400 now.  

 

Child on video presentation So I want to get adopted. It will change my life completely. My name is Samuel Berger Westham. I like video games. I like– my main favorite sport is baseball. My favorite baseball team is the Yankees because Babe Ruth is on their team. I’ve always wanted his autograph. I know he’s dead. My report card said that I had all A’s and one B and that was in math. 

 

Video interviewer What do you want to do after you’re done with school? 

 

Child on video presentation Well, I was thinking about, like, either going into the Army or being a police officer. If I could wish for one thing, it would be– I would change like my whole life. I wouldn’t have to go through none of this. I’ve been in and out dangers multiple times. It sucks. My mom, she’s like, brother’s dad, my stepdad. The reason why we’re in care right now is because he had done some stupid stuff. And I had to call the cops almost every day. So right now we’re in DHS care. 

 

Video interviewer So how do you think getting adopted will change your life? 

 

Child on video presentation I’ll never go through are all this. I don’t have to go in and out of DHS. I could stick with just one family until I’m 18. People are all bringing me in when I’m down. And, I didn’t even ask for all this. It’s all my fault but it’s really not. If you’re watching this, just know that God loves you, and he created you for a reason. And He gave his son to die for all of us, not just me, but for you too. Don’t give up. There is still hope in the world. Don’t give up. 

 

Erwin As you can see, these short films will break you and will cause billows of righteous indignation to rise up and make you want to scream it from the rooftops. As an adoptive mom, I know it’s not easy. I know what I’m asking people to do. I understand every piece of the puzzle, but I also know that Samuel is worth fighting for every day. And as a result of that short film, DCFS adoption staff are working with the family for Samuel. His is not final. There’s a lot of things going on and it takes a lot of ins and outs. But the good news is they’re moving in that direction and soon he’ll be home. And for that, we could not be more grateful. The second way that we help reach our goal is by building hope in waiting kids. As a foster parent, I learned that the longer kids languish in foster care waiting to be adopted, the more hope is lost. It just takes a minute to look in their eyes and to see that hope vanish. So pre-COVID, we were hosting events once a month, all kinds of events from Razorback games to Beauty Shop deals to frozen tea parties to our Project Prom, where we invite girls who were going to prom and we all head to Dillard’s and buy prom dresses and shoes and purses and jewelry and of course, spanx and all the things you need to go to prom. And then we all eat lunch together and we invite volunteers to come in and be fairy godmothers and be matched up with kiddos to, to serve that mom role. We– I can’t even name all of the things we do, but there’s all kinds of events. We recently hosted two back to school bash events where we invited– and I didn’t say this– these events are for children waiting to be adopted, children and teens. But we also invite into the process families who have completed the process and are waiting to adopt. So we don’t want to waste any opportunity for families and kids to meet. And so our two biggest events of the year are our Disney extravaganza, which is in its 14th year this year, minus two years for COVID. So I guess it would be 12th annual. But anyway, we were able to jump back in after 27 months of no events and host this year’s Disney extravaganza. I want to share a little bit and then I’m going to show you the video, which will hopefully be a little more lighthearted than Samuel’s short film. But this year’s Disney extravaganza was attended by 71% of the waiting kids in Arkansas from every corner of our state. And over 450 volunteers hosted 70 Disney themed booths for kids. 130 DCF staff and transporters, adoption staff, DHS staff from the top down attended and almost 100 waiting families. The governor and the first lady were there, which was wild. But the biggest and best thing that I can tell you that happened in that three hour period that we call the Disney extravaganza, is in that moment of time, 36 children met their forever families. That is so humbling and it is such an honor to be a part of that. Before I show you this, our other event that will be coming up in December is our Candyland Christmas event, where we work with DCFS intimately to get Christmas lists from every single waiting child in the state. So it’s not a toy drive. We’ve done that before, but these are lists that come in, we have recently put them online and enabled folks to to adopt a list. We had a lady in Vermont buy gifts and ship them. We have people from all over the place work to do that. The last two years, we’ve partnered with the Arkansas Trucking Association to drive gifts to 13 Santa stops around the state and drop off Christmas to kiddos. And so we just, and I and I’m getting ahead of myself but we love to think outside the box. I always worry when I come to Misha with an idea if she’s going to think you’ve gone a little too far this time. But so far, so far, she has been an amazing partner. But this is this year’s Disney extravaganza to show you a little bit about what we do, and then I’ll wind it up from there. This is in the Emmanuel Baptist Church parking lot. 

 

Project Zero video Hey, we’re at Project Zero’s Disney extravaganza. We are at Disney Extravaganza. This is our 14th annual Disney extravaganza, which is our biggest connection event of the year after not being able to do it since 2019. While the Disney Extravaganza was born 14 years ago, when I learned that people got together sometimes and had adoption picnics where they ate hotdogs and sat around and maybe families were made, maybe they weren’t. So we thought, you know, if we’re going to do something, let’s do it for the kids. Let’s do it so big and so much fun that they just are having a great time. And it’s a non-threatening environment for families and kids to come together. It is our first event in 27 months and it’s crazy that we’re going to start back with such a bang, but we have about 70 Disney themed boots and they’re sponsored by local businesses, churches, individuals. And it’s just amazing to see the creativity and the passion that goes into people taking a theme and just running with it. So it brings me so much joy because we couldn’t do this event without our volunteers, without people committing to doing these booths, and I, it makes it even more special when they just take it and they make it just huge. This event is one where we try to get every waiting child in our state to come, and then families from around the state who are open and approved and waiting to adopt. We have ten areas in our state, every county that’s in one of those areas. So we’ve just been working with DCFS to get kids registered. We have such an amazing partnership, DCFS and Project Zero. We have over 130 staff who have driven from all corners of the state to bring over 260 waiting kids to this event. And we’re building hope and the kids are having fun, they’re feeling valued, and hopefully they’re finding their forever family today. We met our son here at Disney Extravaganza three years ago. We were an open adoptive home. And so this was just our very first matching event to come to. So we knew that even after we would want to come back and volunteer and just be a part of what happens with Project Zero. For this year’s event, obviously, just being able to hug our kids and build hope in them is really important after 27 months of not being able to do that. We want the kids to have fun and be kids for the day. They don’t always get to be kids. And we want them to be loved on. We want them to be valued. But you know what? If one child meets their family, it was worth it all. It was worth the tens of thousands of dollars. It was worth every headache, every prayer, everything if one child meets their family, that’s what it’s all about. They’re really excited about it. The work is hard. It’s very well worth it. These waiting kids deserve to have us show up for them and just to show our support and love on them. And love them well. Every dime, every prayer, every hour awake is about our kids finding families. And so we want this to be so over the top that they will always remember this is where I met my family. 

 

Erwin As you can see, you heard Misha there. And DHS added a– DCFS added a new little caveat this year, a parade and it was so much fun. Director- not director– Secretary Gillespie and the whole crew was on the float going by. So it was really special. But finally, the third way we helped to reach the goal of zero is by working with in a close partnership with Arkansas DCFS. Obviously, there is no way we could fight this battle without them. We work with every single adoption specialist in the state on a daily basis. We work with everyone at the central office, all working together for one goal, and that’s to find a family for every waiting child. We believe that every waiting child is unique, precious, valuable, and they deserve the opportunity to have the very best family to meet their needs and to help them heal and grow. We have had the honor to be part of helping 1,100, over 1,100 kids meet their forever families. And for that, we are incredibly grateful. But there’s so much work left to be done. There are 292, as I said before, children and teens who are waiting right now to find their way home and only one yes, it would just take a yes to make that happen. Every day that passes in the life of a waiting child is a day too long. Three weeks ago, at our back to school bash, I was standing there and a boy came up and touched me on the arm. He’s 15 and he said, Hey. And I said, Yeah, how are you today? And he said, Hey, do you know any adoptive families? And I said, Yes, yes, I do. And he said, Well, where are they, because I want to be adopted. And in that moment, I just thought, you know, our kids should not have to be in a position where they’re looking for families. They should be kids. And we should be taking on that burden for them. And we’re we’re, I use the word honored so much. And I see that just repeated in everything I say, because I truly am honored to get to carry that weight for them. We want to cast a wider net. We want to utilize all types of formats. Anything we can do to help people know about our waiting kids and to get every single one of them home. We use the quote really often that’s from an anonymous source. And it says this: There are no unwanted children, just unfound families. And we are passionate, extremely passionate about finding those families where we would love for brokenness to be healed, for lives to be restored, for dreams to be born, for destinies to be realized and visions to be fulfilled, where hope lives peace abounds, faith is lived out, laughter flows, joy reigns, family is cemented in truth and unconditional love and where God dwells. We believe that when we serve waiting kids as Project Zero with love, intentionality, purpose and excellence, we show a watching world that they’re not a foster kid. That they are precious and valuable and unique and they deserve to be fought for. I would just challenge you if I may, to get on our website and look at the faces of the children that belong to us. They’re in Arkansas state custody. They’re Arkansas’ children, and they legally have no parents. And I would encourage you to share the truth about them, to your constituents, to people in your community, because 292 children waiting to be adoptable, adopted, is doable. It is absolutely doable. It’s just a matter of finding the right family for each waiting child. So thank you for the opportunity to share about Project Zero. Thank you for your support. And we’re just, we’re just grateful to do the work we do. Questions. 

 

Fite Christie, thank you so much for being with us. And I think we may be a little bit speechless right now. But let me see if we do have some questions. Representative Cloud. 

 

Cloud Thank you, Madam Chairman. Just wondering, like, when you make a connection like at Disney extravaganza with a child and a family, what about the legal services? 

 

Erwin Fantastic.  

 

Cloud Do you help with that? 

 

Erwin  Yes. The way that works is, families, you know, we do zooms with them before to kind of lay out what it’s going to look like because we want to do everything– DCFS and Project Zero wants to do everything with respect to the kids. So we don’t want it to be a show of any sort, or we want it to be fun for the kids and all about them. So what happens is, if I meet little Susie and I want to know more about her, then at the end of the time, you saw that mailbox at the end, that big red mailbox where, where children are not around, families come to that and fill out an information sheet with all of their information and the child’s name. It goes in that box. It goes to our logistics coordinator. She compiles the list and before Monday morning of that weekend sends it to every adoption specialist in the state. They begin the process. Then if there are five families that inquired about one particular child, they will pull those home studies and be reading those home studies to find out, are any of these families the best family for that particular child? We begin then partnering with the adoption manager to weekly host phone calls where we are going through every single inquiry. And this year I think there were 241 inquiries. So we are going through every single one of those to make sure that nobody, nobody’s falling through the cracks, that we know where we stand. And so DCFS is handling all of the legal process to that. Families are already open and approve this. All of our events are closed to the public. So every family is vetted by DCFS before they attend. So we know that if they inquire, they may be the right family, but that’s all handled on the DCFS end. And we don’t make the selections either, I might add that. But I will say that our, we have the inquiry piece of the puzzle on our website. And last year we answered over 10,000 inquiries about Arkansas waiting kids from every corner of the country, from, from Europe, from just everywhere. So word is getting out about our kiddos. I hope that answered that question. 

 

Fite It did. Representative McKenzie. 

 

McKenzie Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you for all that you do. I’ve been following Project Zero for some time now. Could you give us more information about the process– the time, the criteria for a family to become approved so they can attend these events? 

 

Erwin Right. Absolutely. We, you know, we do not– we, we kind of have a one track mind, as you could tell, by the way I talk today, and that’s our waiting kids. So what we do, if a family writes in and they say, how do I adopt? You know, we start out by saying, do you live in Arkansas or another state? And they say, I live in Arkansas. So we begin, we lay out how they can get open and we give them all the information they need, the website for DCFS for the call. If they want to be a foster family, we add some other entities in there to help them and then we let them know. Once you go through that process, then you’re back to us because then you begin getting all the emails saying, You’re invited to this and you’re invited to that. I would say that the process, and this is just a guess, would take anywhere from 4 to 12 months, depending on– and Misha correct me if I’m wrong– depending on your availability to attend training and the person’s availability and all of when, when things are available and that type of thing. But you know, it can be done fairly quickly if you’re ready to roll and ready to get your physicals and all the things that you need to get done. And then once they do that final walk through, even, you know, we had families that they had their final walk through the day before Disney. And they were able to come because DCFS was able to get them vetted and make sure they were open. 

 

Fite We really need to move on as quickly as we can because we still have some reports. Can we get your– if you would, send your contact information to Blake and he will send that out to everybody. And that way they can connect with you and get some more answers. Thank you so much for being with us. Next, we have a Family Preservation Services report. That’s Exhibit E from Misha Martin, director of Division of Children and Family Services, Department of Human Services. Misha, we all know you by now, but for the record, if you would, introduce yourself to the committee. 

 

Martin Yes. Good afternoon. I’m Misha Martin. I’m the director of the Division of Children and Family Services. Man, is it hard to follow up after Restore Hope and Project Zero, two of our strongest partners. But I hope what you also walk away from, besides just the amazing things they just said and shared with their partnership with you, is my takeaway is also that children are not meant to be raised by the government. So whether it is Restore Hope working with families to get children back with their families, and if that’s not possible, then they do move to the adoption. We have an amazing partner at Project Zero that helps us find and identify homes because children should not be raised by the government. Though sometimes foster care is a necessary intervention to keep children safe, but it should be a short term intervention. So we are so thankful for our partners. And there’s more than just these two, but these two are super amazing. So I’ll jump into the Families Preservations Report. And I thought I saw Representative Clark. Oh, Clark Tucker. Representative Tucker. This report is something I mentioned in the last meeting that we had because you had asked about, and I think we followed up over email, but I just want to make a point to point it out that this family preservations report does show a lot of the data over the prior two years so can show more of trends. It is similar data that you see in both our annual report card and our quarterly performance, our QPR, that I present to you in different, at different meetings and you’ll probably get the email report card in the next meeting. What’s really cool about this report is, if you will flip to the back as I’m going through it, almost every data point that I talk about is broke out by county. And now the sections that I’m going to go over are by area. But if you’ll just move to the appendix in the counties in which you cover, you can see what area they’re in. So you’ll know when I reference an area and if it equates to your county that you represent. So the back has all the county level data while the meat of what I will go through does speak in areas. So you can reference back. So I’ll start on page 2. And again, this is similar data that you get in the annual report card, but it shows trends over the last few years. And just to make sure we’re all on the same page, this is for calendar year 2021. So this is a little bit older and we do not so much use this as a management tool, because we do have more data that is– that we use, a tool called Safe Measures, as well as other reports that we pull that come to us every three days that we get more up to date data. So I don’t want you to worry. It’s like, do you use this as a management tool? Not really, because it’s already out of date. We have tools and data that are at our fingertips, but this does show us good trends over prior years and is required by the legislature to report. So starting on page 2, accepted reports of child maltreatment. You can see that there was a dip in 2020, which was the beginning of the pandemic, in March of 2020. You saw that start back increasing in 2021. We have continued to see an increase. There were 4,393 accepted reports of maltreatment to the child abuse hotline. And then, I’m not going to hit every single chart because I know we’re pressed for time, but I’m always happy to take questions or talk after committee. So I’m going to skip over quite a bit because I do cover this data and you do have it in the report itself. I’ll note that timely initiations of investigations on page 3, that could be either 24 or 72 hours,depending on the severity of their maltreatment, we did see a decline in 2021. In 2021, we faced significant turnover and workforce challenges. We’re starting to come out of that. But 2021 was a very difficult for, a difficult year for us with workforce challenges. And it is reflected in, in some of our numbers, but not all of our numbers. And this one is the key on timely initiation of investigation. But you can also see on the bottom of page 3 that you break it out by areas. Well, several of our areas that have more stability in workforce, such as areas 8, 9 and 10, had better initiations of investigations, where areas that we are struggling with– and you’ll see across this report– include area 6, which area six is Pulaski County. It’s our only area that is one county. Moving on to reoccurrence of maltreatment, which is a substantial number on page 6. We did stay below the national average, which is a good thing, because that means that the kids that we did investigate and provide services to, only 6% of those kids had a reoccurrence of some maltreatment within 12 months. I’m going to pass over differential response, which is on 6 and 7, and move on to open in-home cases, which you’ll see on the page of top of page 9. We have seen an increase in in-home protective services cases. That is due the length of time that we are keeping open in-home service cases. And in some ways that’s good. We now have across the state, though not complete implementation though funding and contracts for intensive in-home services and many of those services are a longer period of time than we have traditionally kept in-home cases open. Those are 6 to 9 months. So we may see increase of in-home cases due to the length of time that we are keeping them open, which could be a good thing if we’re working and offering services and getting those families on the right path. Moving on to page 11, you can see that we, we were at our lowest number of kids in foster care the month before the pandemic started. We actually went below 4,200 kids in foster care. As the pandemic hit, we saw increases. And as of 2021, we had 4,631 children in foster care. As of yesterday, we had 4,445. So we are decreasing again. You can see on page 12 it talks about placement and proximity of a child’s placement to their home county or neighboring county. We want to keep children in their own county. So we did decrease by a percentage point in that area. Placements continue to be a struggle for us, but we are working through that and that’s a whole long conversation, so I won’t go into that. But placements and keeping kids in their home county does continue to be a struggle for us. But on that same note, looking at page 14, you can see placement of kids in care who are with relative, and at the end of 2021, we were at over 42%. Our own data, our own Arkansas data, even though the national data supports this, that relatives, when safe and appropriate, are the best placement for kids. And while they’re in foster care, our own Arkansas data demonstrates that relatives, that kids who are placed with relatives have more stability, less likely to suffer any maltreatment, and more quickly to permanency than any other type of placement. So as you can also see on the ribbon on the, on the left about relative placements, six years ago, in 2015, the relative placement rate was less than 20%. So the division over the last six years has made it a substantial priority not only to place children with relatives or fictive kin, but also to make those placements same day so that children who come into foster care, if they can be prevented from being placed with this stranger, they never go to a stranger. They go to a relative or fictive kin. You can also see the breakout by area of how relative placements are going on the bottom of page 15. And you can see like there’s a range from 31 to 51%, but all areas are seeing increases in relative placements. And as I mentioned a second ago, you can see on 15 that our placement stability rate continues to decrease and we are still above the national average. But you can also see in the ribbon in 2015, the placement stability rate was 7.54, which means the placement stability which is explained at the top. Placement stability is measured by the rate of placement moves per 1,000 days in foster care for children who enter care over a 12 month period. So 7.54% was horrible. 5.2% is not good. But we are making progress to more placement stability and relatives are a key to making that placement stability better. And again, you can look at your own counties in the back as we, as we move through this. Permanency within 12 months on the, on page 16. Sadly, as the pandemic hit, we were slower to move children to permanency. So this goes back to what I was saying at the very beginning. Children should not be raised by the government. And if we, if we do raise them, it should be for a short period. So permanency is really important that we– foster care is a short term intervention– that we move them to something more permanent, whether adoption, reunification with their family and guardianship. We struggled when the pandemic hit, and as of 2021, we were right at the national standard of 40% of our kids moving to permanency. Discharges from foster care also are the contributing factor to increases in the number of children that we have in foster care. We have not seen an increase of the number of children entering foster care. It has been a decrease in the children exiting foster care. Now, on a positive note, we have seen improved permanency in 2022 and as you will also see on page 18 is that we actually fell below, which is good. I have to be real careful about these nationals. It’s good on this one that we fell below the national standard of 11 months to adoption. And that’s the first time in many years that we have been below the national average of 11 months. Now, to me, 11 months from termination to adoption is way too long. But that does include the kids who have been in care for a substantial period of time, who, working with Project Zero and others, we find an adoptive home. So that does hurt our numbers as well, right? But we totally want kids who have been in foster care to find adoptive homes. So that, just giving you that information so you understand that number. But we are proud that we are reducing. And in 2021, at the end from September to November, we did a huge campaign and partnership with Project Zero. Hopefully you’ve seen that our, kind of our branding right now is every day counts. And every day counts is saying to not only our staff but the community that every day counts for our kids. And so we need to be moving towards permanency. We need to make sure that we’re making good safety decisions. And so from September to November with our everyday counts messaging, we partnered with Christie and Project Zero to make it all about adoption and had some really successful finalization of adoptions in those final three months– or not final three months– but September, October, November of 2021. And you can also see we are starting back on the uptrend of finalization of adoptions, which declined in 2020. And we were setting records the three prior years to that of over 900 adoptions. So we did have a significant decline that first year of the pandemic. We are back on the upswing of number of adoptions finalized. You can see a better layout of our strengths and weaknesses than I have just done on page 19 and then on page 20. I’ll move into wellbeing. And we talk about in both page 20 and 21 visits. We should be– DCFS should be seeing our children at least once a month, which is, which is required, if not more than once a month. And you can see the data on that. We have struggled with in-home visits at only 76% in 2021. Now you will see a breakout on the bottom of page 20. And as you can see, Pulaski County and Area 6 was definitely pulling down our average. They only saw their kids 36% of the time. And I think as I’ve done in the past, we have a whole plan that I’m more than willing to present again around how we are supporting Pulaski to move them out of crisis. And then, that is pretty much the conclusion of the family preservations report. And I just would encourage you again to look at the appendix where you can see each county and a breakout of how they’re doing in comparison to the past two years. And I would much rather talk about kids. But that wasn’t my assignment today. 

 

Fite Thank you, Director Martin. I’m not seeing any questions. So thank you for being with us. Oh, I’m sorry. Representative Tucker. 

 

Tucker Thank you. 

 

Fite Senator Tucker, sorry. 

 

Martin Oh, sorry, Senator Tucker. 

 

Tucker I take it as a compliment. 

 

Martin Sorry. I’ve been around too long. 

 

Tucker So, first of all, I just want to thank you for pointing that out. I really appreciate the year to year comparisons. And I don’t want you to– just representing Pulaski County, I don’t want to ask you to go into a 15 minute discussion of Pulaski County. But especially that last number, I’m just curious if you could just give you kind of a summary explanation of why it’s so different. And then just, you know, quickly again– I don’t want you to have to go into great detail– about what your plan is for Pulaski County. 

 

Martin Right. Well, and I want to reframe that question, because I don’t think that Pulaski is so different. I think we get in trouble when we start having counties in crisis that like to think of themselves as so different. Now, their numbers are different because they have gotten into crisis. And what happens in child welfare is a snowball effect. So when things start taking a turn, it quickly snowballs. In the past, when I had a county snowballing, we would call in every other area and workforce to, like, stop this snowball effect. Right? Well, the snowball started, it was starting right before COVID hit hard, right when COVID happened. I’m losing staff from other areas of the state. We’re quarantining. We’re having placement crises. There was no real ability to call in a reinforcement to stop the snowball. And I did call in 10%, over 10% of central office staff. We have about 100 staff. And actually, it was more like 20%. I lost most of that, those staff that I called in to come in and crisis to help in Pulaski. So we had a snowball effect. We had over 100%– or we had– it was over 100%. And you ask, how do you have over 100%? You actually have multiple positions turnover twice in the same year. So when you lose 100% of your family service workers in Pulaski, you are in full crisis. Now, we implemented a whole plan and came to you guys and asked for positions. We got approval for one of the, one of the national experts, Public Knowledge, which is working with Restore Hope and has even pulled in a leadership team to manage. We have invested more resources in intensive in-home services to try and provide better services to the family if they’re not getting it from our case managers. And I’m talking off the top of my head right now, but we– like, going through this, there have been several ways that we are trying to stabilize Pulaski. I do think that they are headed in the right direction at this point. But 2021 was a very, very difficult year for us in Pulaski County. 

 

Fite Representative Berry. 

 

M Berry Thank you, Madam Chairman and Director Martin. I just want to say thank you for the extraordinary work that you do not only in DCFS, but the metrics and the data and everything that you provide us. Every time you do one of these reports it’s extraordinary and very well done. I just want to thank you for all the hard work and effort that goes into a document such as this. 

 

Martin Thank you. 

 

M Berry Thank you. Thank you, Madam Chair. 

 

Fite Representative Furman. No? Okay. All right. Thank you so much. Thank you for being with us. Our last report today is from Major Drew, the commander of Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division. The Quarterly Oversight Report from April to June of 2022. And that is exhibit F. 

 

Drew Good morning, Chair, committee members. Major Jeff Drew, CACD commander. I apologize, Representative Berry, right off. Our report doesn’t look as nice as that last one. All right. I’ll be covering April through June. If you look on page 2, it shows the call volume. The hotline received 15,086 calls. 8,803 of those calls were accepted. CACD handled 1,778 of those. DCFS handled 5,687, while 1,338 were differential responses. On page 3, it will reflect the allegations by type and the monthly breakdown. If you go to page 4, it will show the cases reported by your mandated reporters. And on page 5, you’ll see the monthly breakdown of the cases opened and cases closed. Within a three month period, there were 1,678 cases opened and 1,628 closed. Of the 1,628 cases closed, 571 of those were found true with a substantiation rate of 35%. There are 2,806 cases active, with 169 of those being open over 45 days. Pages 6 and 7 will reflect a breakdown by county of the cases assigned. Pages 9 through 10 will reflect the reported allegation type in alleged victim groups. Pages 11 through 22 reflects the relationship between the alleged offender and the victim and the age groups of the alleged offenders. And pages 24 through 31 is a breakdown of the judicial district’s prosecuting attorney’s cases submitted and also which ones were filed, declined and which ones are pending. And if you go to page 31, we have those numbers listed for you. We submitted a total of 631 charges. Out of those, 235 charges were filed. We have 251 still pending and 145 declined. I’ll be glad to take any questions that you have. 

 

Fite Thank you, Major Drew. Recently on social media, I’ve seen some complaints about the long waiting time when people dial in a report to the hotline. Can you help us with that? 

 

Drew [01:24:06]We’re working on it. We’ve had a shortage there on the hotline. Right now, we have 35 positions in the hotline. But we only have 26 of those positions filled right now and two of those are part time. [10.8s] We had to bring to just concentrate on faxes alone. But there is help on the way. We’re working on the automated system. We’re in the testing process now. I don’t want to give the portal at this time, but it’s presently being worked on. So, you know, I’m sorry. Getting ahead of myself. It’ll speed up the time of the call wait. And hopefully with the measures that we’re putting in place, hopefully we’ll be able to get all those positions filled pretty soon. We’re actually seeing more applicants than we had before with some changes that were made. 

 

Fite I think with school starting also that we’ll see an uptake in calls as we usually do when there haven’t been a lot of eyes on the children through the summer, and then teachers and school staff are starting to see things that concern them. So it’ll be good when we can get those positions filled. And it’s the same issue we’re facing across the state with finding people to work. Were there any other questions? Representative Berry. 

 

M Berry Thanks, Madam Chairman. And I think you answered a couple of my questions for the chairman. And I will say, you are the best dressed state trooper that we have. So your, your report may not be that pretty– not saying pretty you’re or anything, but you’re doing good. So, major, in comparison to the– on the number of calls that were received for the time frame of April, May and June, is that up from the same time period last year? Would you know by chance? Are you seeing more now than we did back then, which we were still in a, you know, the COVID environment with a lot of kids at home? 

 

Drew To compare the last year to calls we received, at this point, we’re about 359 fewer calls this time last year. 

 

M Berry All right, good. Thank you, Madam Chair. 

 

Fite All right. I’m seeing no additional questions. Thank you so much, Major Drew. 

 

Drew Thank you. Thank you all. 

 

Fite And seeing no other business before us, unless someone has an announcement, seeing none, we’re ready to adjourn. Thank you for being with us today.