State Summary

 

Arkansas


Arkansas

Dependency-Neglect Attorneys Ad Litem

In Arkansas, all children that become a part of the dependency-neglect court system are assigned an attorney ad litem (AAL) to represent their best interests.  Each AALs must participate in 10 hours of training specific to the dependency-neglect system.  During 2010, 34 attorneys participated in the training and became qualified to serve as AALs.  The AAL Program has achieved the following:

  • The AAL Program has 33 full-time employees and 37 part-time contractors who provide representation to all children in dependency-neglect cases.  The AAL program has a high rate of retention.  As of October 20011, 25 of the attorneys have more than three years with the program.
  • From October 2010 to September 2011, AALs provided representation to 9,289 children in 5.337 dependency-neglect cases.
  • The CIP assists in sponsoring two conferences each year, the AAL Fall Conference and the Children in the Court Conference.  ALLs who are full time employees are required to attend both conferences.  The training is free for attorneys who are employed by or contracted with the program.
  • The ALL Program evaluation component now includes data analysis, file review, court observation, interviews, and stakeholder surveys.  In February 2011 a Youth Engagement Specialist Team was developed to assist in this process.  The initial goal of putting the team together was to add the youth perspective to the evaluation process.  All AAL employees will receive this performance evaluation next year.
  • During the 2011 legislative session, the state funded a FT Program/D-Net Manager for D-N Representation Division.  The Program/D-Net manager has worked closely with CIP in the development and implementation of the D-Net data exchange system; including the transferring of data from an antiquated ACCESS data base to the new D-Net system and ensuring accurate reporting that is critical to our court performance measures.  The program Manger has worked closely with DCFS on data match.
  • The AAL Policy Manual and Standards of Practice for AALs was updated and made available to AALs.  A new performance evaluation and contract compliance protocol was implemented in 2011.

Legal Representation of Parties
Legal Representation of Parties: Appointing and Regulating Attorneys
Technology:  Information Sharing
Technology:  Data Collection
Training and Education:  Attorney/GAL programs

CASA Program

The Arkansas CIP provided grants, guidance, and technical assistance to 25 local CASA programs that served 3,443 children with 1,307 volunteers.  In addition to numerous training activities, other initiatives of the CASA Program in 2011 included the following:

  • Facilitated local program grants review for National CASA Association with Pulaski County CASA and CASA of the 20th Judicial District.
  • Updated the organizational strategic plan to reflect Arkansas State CASA Association’s commitment to improving outcomes for foster children by providing resources, consultative services and technical assistance for local programs.
  • Provided non-profit management guidebooks and publications for all local programs.
  • Purchased NCASAA awareness campaign banners for each local CASA program.

Legal Representation of Parties
Legal Representation of Parties: CASA Programs
Training and Education:  Training materials and benchbooks

Parents’ Counsel

Attorneys who represent parents in child welfare cases through contracts with Arkansas are required to undergo 10 hours of training specific to the dependency neglect system.  The CIP sponsors the training, which is offered through the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).  Parent counsel activities during 2011 included the following:
 
• The Parent Counsel Program contracted with 60 attorneys to represent parents in dependency-neglect cases.  Parent counsel represented an average of 2,664 parents per month across the state, with each contractor representing an average of 44 parents per month.
 
• The juvenile judges sponsored a Bill to refine the Right to Counsel Statute.  The Bill was passed and in short, parents and custodians have a right to court-appointed counsel in all D-N proceedings if they had legal custody at the time the child was removed and they request counsel and are indigent.  Punitive parents have a right to counsel under certain circumstances.
 
• The monthly reporting form was further revised to reflect more detailed information regarding case progress.
 
• A Conflict Attorney portion of the Parent Counsel Program was revised by contracting with three conflict attorneys across the state to represent an average of 10 cases per month for a flat fee plus expenses.

• The Parent Counsel Program Director has established an Advisory Committee, which is considering a Policies and Procedures Manual and reviewing state parent counsel standards in comparison to the national and other state standards.
Legal Representation of Parties
Legal Representation of Parties: Appointing and Regulating Attorneys

Dependency-Neglect Mediation Program

As reported in prior Court Improvement Progress Reports, the CIP and the Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas developed a statewide dependency-neglect mediation program that began in January 2004.  The Director of Clinical Programs at the Bowen School of Law oversees this program, which provides law students with practical experience in dependency-neglect mediation to help children achieve permanency and safety in a timely and effective manner.
 
The CIP gave the mediation program $60,000 to pay for administrative expenses and all mediations ordered by courts across the state as well as additional training for the courts and agency as deemed appropriate.  This program is being expanded to include Transitional Youth Plans to engage youth in the development of their transitional plans pursuant to Act 391 of 2009 and in the development of a “Cold Case” Program.
Alternative Dispute Resolution

Achieving Permanency

The time from termination of parental rights and adoption has been as issue in the state of Arkansas for some time.  CIP staff participate on committees with the department with the focus of moving more children to adoption.  CIP, through a contractor, using the AFCARS data, has been compiling data and providing judges with data specific to permanency and other outcomes twice yearly.  This has caused some judges to begin asking questions about the data that relates to their judicial district.  CIP encourages judges to take this data to their court improvement teams and have discussion about why the data looks the way that it does.  Areas that are highlighted in these reports are:  The percentage of children reaching permanency during the 6 month reporting period; Percentage of children who left court care and went to relative care; Percentage of children who did not reach permanency before case closure; Percentage of children that had two or more placement moves; Percentage of children who were in foster care for the previous 12 month; and, the percentage of children that had been in foster care at any point. 

This data has been used to assist judicial court teams to develop strategic plans for improving overall practice in the courtroom. CIP continues to provide best practice tip cards to all parties.  CIP is also encouraging the use of technology in the courtroom as a way of achieving permanency quicker.  Through the data sharing and collection program that CIP is funding, D-Net, judges and others in the court room are reminded of the status of the case with flags that indicate when certain time lines are nearing.
Hearing Quality and Depth
Hearing Quality and Depth:  Guidelines, manuals and benchbooks
Timeliness of Decisions:  Data management and technology
Community Collaboration

Data Collection and Analysis Grant

The CIP Data Collection and Analysis Grant is being used for the following activities:

  • Data Exchange Project.  As reported in the Court Improvement Progress Report 2009, the Court Improvement Project Systems Analyst (CIPTA) is overseeing implementation of D-Net, the statewide web-based data management system.  D-Net went live in October 2010 and is successfully integrated with the larger court automation system. Current accomplishments and activities are:
    • A total of 50 attorneys ad litem, who serve 55 of the 75 counties in Arkansas, use D-Net to capture information about their cases. 
    • Fields in D-Net are available to capture all of the permanency outcome measure suggested in “Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases” published by the U.S. Department of Justice.
    • A Memorandum of Understanding between the AOC, DCFS, and OCC has been renewed for the next two years.
    • A contract is in place to provide external programming assistance for the data exchange.
    • A case initiation process involving data transfer from the SACWIS system and establishing the case in D-Net has been created and tested.
    • Development is complete and testing is ongoing for the database link portion of the data exchange between the court data system and SACWIS.  The data exchange is expected to go live in January 2012.
    • Development is ongoing for the web service portion of the data exchange between the court data system and SACWIS.  The web service portion is expected to go live in the spring of 2012.
    • The AOC has implemented Active Directory to verify users of D-Net.  All users of D-Net are being integrated into the Active Directory system.
  • Court Technology.  The CIP will continue to offer technology grants to courts using technology to schedule time specific hearings and produce court orders during the hearing.  The grants are used to purchase computers, printers, and scanners to be used in the courtroom.  This equipment will be helpful to courts to take advantage of D-Net’s benefits.

Technology
Technology: Data Collection
Technology: Information Sharing
Technology: Internet Development
Technology: Equipment

Training Initiatives

Arkansas used its Training Grant for the following initiatives:

  • Children in the Courts.  In May 2011, the AOC, Arkansas CIP, and Arkansas CASA hosted the annual Children in the Courts Conference. This multidisciplinary conference was attended by approximately 400 participants.  The CIP offered scholarships for agency attorneys, caseworkers, and foster parents who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend the conference.  The first day of the three-day conference was an intensive legal track for attorneys and judges.  There were 27 different topics for attendees to choose from, encompassing such areas as Evidence in Dependency and Neglect Cases, Social Media and the Courts, Special Education Law, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Ethics, Juvenile Sex Offenders and Contempt in FINS Cases. 
  • CASA Conference.  The AOC decided to return to a two separate conference format.  This allowed the conference committee to focus on sessions benefiting CASA staff, advocates and board members in their work in the non-profit arena.  The conference offered sessions in one of four different tracks:  CASA staff, CASA board, CASA advocates and general sessions for all attendees.  These two conferences were attended by approximately 380 attendees.
  • Annual Judicial Conference.  The CIP Training Grant helped finance the fall 2011 Annual Judicial Conference. The CIP was able to bring in speakers on various topics that were of important to judges.
  • Training for Dependency Neglect Attorneys
    • Annual ALL Conference.  The training grant helped to provide a fall mini conference for attorney ad litem’s.  This is the fourth time that ad litem’s were brought together as a group.  The conferences have focused on best practice in working with children involved in the dependency neglect system as well as best practice in the courtroom.
    • Annual Parent Counsel Conference.  CIP assisted with the mini fall conference for counsel for indigent parents.  This group has continued to indicate a need to convene as a group of attorneys that practice in the same arena.  They use this mini conference as way to build a network of colleagues who can share experiences and trouble shoot problems that arise in the field.
    • Qualification Training for Dependency Neglect Attorneys.  Attorneys that represent children and their parents in dependency neglect proceedings are required to Arkansas statute to complete the minimum of 10 hours of specialized training in order to be considered qualified by the state to do so.  The CIP training grant helped to finance this training and 49 attorneys became qualified to be counsel in dependency neglect proceedings.

Training and Education
Training and Education: Judicial Training
Training and Education: Attorney/GAL Programs
Training and Education: Multidisciplinary Training