Hard to Argue a Need for Faith-Based Protection Bill in Arkansas

The Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Autism Resource and Outreach Center.

A central argument used by proponents of faith-based child welfare protection bills, which allow religious providers to selectively serve some foster and adoptive parents and not others, is its impact on supply.

These laws, they argue, enable the participation of providers that can tap into a pool of religious families that secular recruiters and trainers are not likely to reach. Ten states have passed such legislation since 2015, and so far, three more have bills in the hopper this legislative season.

Sen. Alan Clark (R), who introduced a faith-based protection bill this year. Photo courtesy of alanclarklistens.com

One of those is Arkansas, where with little fanfare, State Sen. Alan Clark (R) dropped a bill similar to those passed in other states back in mid-February. But the supply-side case for its necessity in his state is stepped on somewhat by two salient facts.

First, the biggest recruiter of foster parents in the state is a faith-based organization – The CALL, which has been credited with supplying nearly half of all the foster homes licensed in the state. This organization was founded in 2007, and has been operating without a state faith-based law this entire time.

It is without question one of the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) most critical partners, and other states have started to hit up The CALL for help on their own recruitment efforts. From The Chronicle of Social Change’s 2017 feature on the organization, here is a reflection on the organization’s impact from DCFS Assistant Director Beki Dunagan, who was once a county-level supervisor in the system:

“Being in the field, in the weeds, I know what it is like,” Dunagan said. “You remove children, and sometimes you might be in that office for seven hours trying to find a placement. Then you might end up with that child in an emergency shelter or a placement just for the night, and you start all over the next day.”

After The CALL took off, she said, “it was like day and night. … Within an hour, we’d have children placed.” When Lonoke County DCFS told the upstart nonprofit that it needed help providing snacks to kids visiting their parents after school at the DCFS office, The CALL mustered resources to do just that. “I can’t even articulate to you the support I felt in Lonoke,” Dunagan said.

The second salient fact is that The CALL seems to want nothing to do with this legislation.

Lauri Currier, CEO of The CALL
Lauri Currier, CEO of The CALL. Photo by Brian Chilson

“We haven’t really been involved,” said The CALL CEO Lauri Currier, when Youth Services Insider asked if the organization supports it. “It doesn’t impact our organization.”

One might conclude that this means The CALL is willing to consider all comers – not the case. The organization does limit its recruitment and training of parents to Christian households. But while it is a key partner of the state Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services, it does not take a penny of government funding.

YSI asked Currier if her organization would pursue state grants or contracts if the faith-based protection bill was signed by the governor.

“We’re mission-driven not to take state funds,” Currier said. “Our mission is mobilizing the church. We’ve chosen to be privately funded.”

We e-mailed Sen. Clark to ask what the impetus for it was, given that so much of the state’s foster care capacity has been driven by the faith community without special protections. Clark has not yet responded.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1051 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.