The number of children in the Sebastian County foster system reached a total unprecedented in recent years at the end of 2017.
Sebastian County CASA director Glenda Evans said that more than 800 children were in the county's foster system at the end of December. Officials with the Department of Human Services reportedly relayed this figure to Evans.
The number of foster children in Sebastian County was "a little below 800" as of Wednesday, Evans said.
“This is the highest I’ve ever seen it," Evans said of the number of foster children at the end of 2017.
Children are placed into foster care because they are "unsafe, abused or neglected" when around their families, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. DHS uses the Casey Foundation for national and state statistics for child maltreatment.
Sebastian County remained near the top of Arkansas counties both in terms of gross number and rate of foster children in 2017. The number of county foster children was in the 600s or 700s throughout the year, and sometimes exceeded 800.
Evans said she has seen the number of county child neglect cases that lead to foster placements rise in recent months. She said the number of emotional, physical and sexual abuse cases that lead to a foster placement have stayed relatively the same.
Evans attributed the rise in neglect cases to drug abuse, specifically of opioids and methamphetamine. She said that drug abuse by parents can lead to several types of child maltreatment.
“Whenever you have cases where drugs are involved, you’re going to have more physical (abuse) that starts off as drug usage, but the more you dig into it and investigate it, you find out that there was sexual abuse or porn or environmental (hazards)," she said.
Because of the high number, Sebastian County foster children are placed in homes all over Arkansas. Evans said county foster children currently live in foster homes in Jonesboro, Little Rock, Hot Springs and Texarkana.
Evans also said that the number of county foster children presents a need for volunteers in CASA. CASA volunteers are in charge of ensuring the safety of the children, keeping a record on what is going on in the children's lives attending their court dates. A volunteer can represent multiple children and can volunteer in multiple cases if they wish.
As of Thursday, Sebastian County CASA has 85 volunteers.
Evans said that Sebastian County CASA also needs more funding in order to cover more children's cases. She said that funding allows CASA to acquire supervisors, who are able to handle up to 30 cases.
“It’s sort of a domino effect," Evans said.