LITTLE ROCK — Child welfare advocates gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Monday to recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Monday and to highlight programs in effect to address the problem.
"Child abuse and neglect affect children of every age, race and family income level, and at greater risk are young mothers and fathers unprepared for the responsibilities of raising a child, overwhelmed single parents with little support," said Cecile Blucker, director of the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services.
It also is a problem in "families placed under stress by poverty, divorce or a child’s disability, and those families that are stressed by just the general worries about foreclosures, employment, health, substance abase, mental health, domestic violence or other problems," Blucker said.
Her division investigated about 35,700 allegations of child abuse in 2012 and about 7,700 children entered foster care, while the division worked with another 29,000 children and their families.
Blucker told the crowd that Arkansas was among nine states recently selected to participate in a federal program over the next five years that will allow for the shifting of resources "to positively impact the children and families we serve and to have better outcomes."
She said the program, which is already under way in 31 counties and will be available across the state by August, is designed to reduce child abuse and the number of children in foster care by working with and educating families.
"One new approach is Differential Response," she said. "Which is … a different way to respond to some of the lower child maltreatment types, such as environmental neglect, inadequate food, clothing and shelter, and inadequate supervision."
She said the program will "engage families in a non-adversarial and voluntary approach so families are more engaged and committed to doing what they need to do to protect and care for their children."
The families also will work local community agencies and groups.
Also during the rally, Wendy Founds, 39, who said she abused drugs for more than a decade, spoke about how the child welfare system helped her regain custody of her daughter, who was placed in foster care, and her life.
She said she and her husband were drug addicts and her daughter was placed in foster care after her arrest for drug possession and dealing. She lost custody of her daughter and spent several years in prison after being convicted.
Founds said she later worked with DCFS caseworkers, received counseling and parenting classes, and her daughter was returned to her.
She now works at Phoenix Recovery Center, a chemical-free living program in Conway, and helps as a counselor at Recovery Centers of Arkansas, where she tries to help parents who are struggling with issues she went through earlier in her life.
"When parents are so far into drugs like I was that they’re not taking care of themselves, then they’re neglecting their kids too," she said. "Children do not have to be beaten to be hurt."