The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith has partnered with Restore Hope and the United Way of Fort Smith Area to launch the 100 Families Initiative, a forward-thinking effort aimed at reducing the effect of Arkansas’s child welfare crisis.
Collaboration among numerous departments of government, social service organizations, community groups and regional businesses resulted in the innovative, nonprofit 100 Families program. This initiative is supported by a community-based team with a goal to help 100 families transition from crisis to career.
“We can’t be an island,” said State Representative Cindy Crawford. “We have tried that, and our community is suffering because of it.”
At the 100 Families Initiative launch, 20 different organizations will sign the Declaration of Participation stating that they will work together to help struggling families.
“I’ve been doing non-profit work since 1990, and this is the biggest collaboration I’ve been part of,” said Crawford.
For its part in the process, UAFS has continued its innovative approach to creating degree plans and programs that meet the needs of the diverse regional population.
“UAFS is developing strategies to meet this cohort right where they’re at,” said Dr. Edward Serna, interim chancellor of UAFS. “We want to address the unique obstacles these students face and create an optimum environment for their success.”
Keeping in line with its strategic plan, UAFS has launched transformational advising initiatives to assist students, and will begin offering a more extensive slate of evening, weekend and online courses this fall to help accommodate working adult learners.
The number of foster children in Sebastian County had dropped by more than 20 percent by the end of 2018, but Sebastian County continues to struggle with the state's highest numbers of children in foster care. Studies link the crisis directly to the cycle of crime and incarceration. The 100 Families Initiative strives to help struggling parents keep their family together and safely reunite families that have been separated.
The ultimate goal for the program is to help court-involved parents obtain stability and find employment at a wage that can support their family. The ability to find employment is affected by education, mindset, life skills, addiction, mental illness, physical constraints, trauma, and the need for adequate food, clothing and shelter. The approach to solving the crisis thus begins with meeting these needs.
The 100 Families Initiative will work within the justice system to encourage and enable judges and family services to direct parents to case managers who can connect them with care providers and advancement organizations in the community. The parent will have access to a recovery or family coach, life skills and entrepreneurship training, employment opportunities and safe housing.
“The 100 Families Initiative goes directly to the heart of reuniting families, parents and children,” said Eddie Lee Herndon, president of the United Way of Fort Smith Area. “Under the direction of Restore Hope, our community has united together in a marvelous collaboration to provide a solution and path for families to stay together, to heal and grow and to reunite those families that have been pulled apart. In addition to the numerous community partners that have committed to help, we need the entire community to wrap their arms around these families and donate time and resources to help hold these families together.”
100 Families will host its celebratory kick-off event Feb. 25 at The Blue Lion at UAFS Downtown in Fort Smith. Speakers will include Serna, Restore Hope Executive Director Paul Chapman and others.
Organizations that have agreed to work together in this initiative and sign the Declaration of Participation are:
Arkansas Community Corrections
Arkansas Family Alliance
Crawford County Adult Education Center
CASA of Crawford/Sebastian
City of Fort Smith
Community Rescue Mission
Department of Children and Family Services
First National Bank of Fort Smith
First Presbyterian Church
Fort Smith Adult Education Center
Fort Smith Homebuilder Association
Fort Smith Housing Authority
Literacy Council of Western Arkansas
Liquid Love Ministries
New Start for Children and Families
Next Step Homeless Services
Riverview Hope Campus
Sebastian County Judge’s Office
Steps Family Resource Center
United Way of Fort Smith
University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center
Western Arkansas Planning and Development District
The United Way of Fort Smith Area is an agency focused on uniting people with resources in the River Valley to make lasting change since 1928.
Restore Hope Arkansas is a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce the number of children in foster care and the rate that offenders return to prison using a collective impact, community model.
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally.