Saturday, October 15, 2011

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XC): Children's shelter proposed to serve nine-county area

I was surprised to see in the August 24, 2011 issue of the Newton County Times this headline: "Children's Shelter Proposed in Jasper." I was surprised because the county has so few social services and because the county's domestic violence shelter closed several years ago, after functioning for only a few years. Turns out, the proposed shelter would serve nine counties, which makes it all the more unusual that the shelter would be sited in Newton County rather than in one of the more populous counties. Here's the story's lede:
A proposal is being made to build a children's shelter in Jasper that would serve nine counties. Representatives of Love Ministries in Jasper, Lindsey Graham and Todd Parker, attended the Jasper City Council meeting Thursday evening, Aug. 18, and gave aldermen an outline of the project and asked the council to pass a resolution in support of the effort necessary for the state grant.

Graham said the Love is Here Children's Shelter is a nonprofit organization that will provide 24-hour emergency residential care to children who are victims of family violence, neglect and physical and sexual abuse. It will be designed to meet the needs of these children by providing them with a safe and loving environment to reduce their trauma, through support and nurturing.
Under the proposal, children would be able to stay at the shelter, which would be staffed for 24 hours a day, for up to 45 days. To show the need for the shelter, Graham presented Department of Human Services statistics which showed that, for the nine-county area, 740 children were in foster care in 2010. Of these, 291 were aged 0 to 5. No emergency shelter is currently available for the nine-county area, which includes Boone, Marion, Baxter, Searcy, Pope, Van Buren, Conway and Faulkner counties, in addition to Newton County. Indeed, the area has only one "active foster home." This is rather shocking given that the total population of these nine counties is more than 325,000. It makes me wonder where children are placed when they are removed from their homes.

It also helps explain why the Department of Human Services reportedly told Love Ministries of the need for a shelter in this region. The story does not make clear whether Love Ministries made initial contact with DHS or vice versa. But, if Love Ministries took the initiative, that might explain why the shelter would be built in Newton County, which is the second least populous county among the nine to be served (second only to Searcy County, which has about a hundred fewer residents). Indeed, Faulkner County's population of is about 14 times that of Newton County. On the other hand, Newton County is fairly centrally located among the nine counties, which makes it seem a more sensible choice for such a shelter. Of course, the factor most cutting in favor of Newton County as a site for site for the shelter is the fact that this charity located there and taking the initiative.

In particular, Love Ministries proposes to deed some of its property, on Hwy 74 west of Jasper, for the shelter. The non-profit organization is seeking an Arkansas Rural Development Grant in the amount of $150,000, which it says is sufficient to build a facility large enough to house 12 children. The shelter would have a contract with the Department of Human Services, which would pay the shelter a fee for each child housed there. Love Ministries indicated that Northwest Arkansas Children's Shelter in Fayetteville, which houses up to 48 children, has been mentoring Love Ministries in this planning process. The state senator and representative for Newton County have already written letters of support of the project, and the Newton County Times story indicates that both mayor and city council voted at the meeting also to endorse the project.

I will be very interested to see if this project moves forward and, if so, at what pace. I'm surprised that the story made no mention of jobs that might be generated by the shelter.

I have forthcoming in the Missouri Law Review an article called "Judging Parents, Judging Place: Poverty, Rurality and Termination of Parental Rights," which discusses the circumstances under which children are removed from their parents and go into foster care, the care of relatives, or into shelters like the one being proposed here. The article can be downloaded here. In it, my co-author Janet Wallace and I argue that rural parents may be judged more harshly than is appropriate or consistent with the law because child protection authorities misunderstand the limitations of their circumstances, including the consequences of rural poverty.

1 comment:

Courtney Taylor said...

I am surprised to see there were 740 children in foster care in the nine-county area in 2010 and there is only one active foster home. In Yolo County, where the population is about two-thirds of the nine county area, there were only 287 children in foster care during that same period. Unlike these nine counties, Yolo County has a multitude of foster homes and group homes for removed children (I'm not sure on the exact numbers, but I'd imagine there are more than 10).

With only one available foster home, it seems likely that the children are put in kinship care with a relative. Hopefully, in these rural counties, most of the families facing removal of their child have relatives nearby.