LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced plans for a summit to explore ways that faith-based groups can work with the state on issues related to foster care of children and the re-entry of former prison inmates into society.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced plans for a summit to explore ways that faith-based groups can work with the state on issues related to foster care of children and the re-entry of former prison inmates into society.


The summit will be held Aug. 25-26 in Little Rock and will be titled "Restore Hope Summit: A Call to Action for Faith Leaders on Foster Care and Prison Re-Entry," Hutchinson said.


"The need is great, and when the need is great we need to enlist the support of the faith community," he said in a news conference at the state Capitol, where he was joined by several religious leaders and state officials who are on a steering committee that has been planning the summit.


Hutchinson said the state has 4,400 children in foster care but only 2,500 approved beds for foster children.


He also said the Legislature has approved funding for 500 beds at re-entry centers where offenders will receive services to help them re-enter society and find jobs, but he said that is insufficient to serve the estimated 6,000 people who will be released from state prisons this year. The unemployment rate for former inmates is 47 percent and the recidivism rate is over 40 percent, he said.


"What are we trying to accomplish in this summit? It is to address a crisis in this state," Hutchinson said.


The governor said about 5,000 houses of worship will soon receive save-the-date requests, to be followed by invitations to the summit. Private funds will cover the cost of the invitations and the summit, he said.


Hutchinson said participants in the summit will be asked to set goals for the expansion of services to foster care children and ex-offenders by the faith community and to identify regulatory burdens that could be lifted to facilitate state partnerships with faith-based groups.


The participants also will be asked to identify ways to ensure accountability, he said.


"It is about inspiration, it is about engagement, it is about action and it is about follow-up," Hutchinson said.


The governor said he did not see the effort as a state endorsement of religion.


‘The state should not endorse any specific religion, and I think you can see from the breadth and diversity of the steering committee and the participation in it, this is about inclusion," he said.


According to the governor’s office, the steering committee’s members include representatives of the Family Council, Interfaith Arkansas, Catholic Charities, the Islamic Center of Little Rock and several Christian churches and Jewish synagogues.


Committee member Anna Cox, founder of the nonprofit group Compassion Works for All and a Buddhist, said the panel’s members have different beliefs but a common objective.


"There has been a transcendent orientation of everybody around the table wanting what is best for the kids and what is best for people coming out of prison, and it really has been a palpable feeling of everybody stepping up and reaching up to higher goals and setting aside divisiveness," she said.