Recently, I visited the wonderful new home of the E.O.A. Children's House in Washington County. Established in 1978, Children's House provides a welcoming, home-like atmosphere for children overcoming abuse and neglect. It is the only facility in Arkansas providing long-term care and therapy exclusively to abused and neglected children between the ages of 18 months and six years.
Housed in the Pat Walker Center for Children in Springdale, Children's House is a year-round therapeutic, child-development, and crisis-intervention center. Almost all of the children receiving care have been referred there by the Arkansas Department of Human Services or by a judge for long-term, therapeutic treatment. These children arrive to find a safe and secure environment, at no cost to their parents or caregivers. They receive healthy meals, medical screenings, and, when necessary, physical and mental-health therapies. In addition, there are educational services designed to help these children overcome the learning problems that often result from abuse and neglect.
The staff at Children's Home also works with the parents or caregivers of the children, ensuring that the lessons, therapy and treatment provided will be reinforced at home. This strategy helps these at-risk children make a smooth transition into a traditional kindergarten or public-school setting. This will prepare them to have a better chance to start on an even level with their peers and succeed in school.
Child maltreatment is a national tragedy, cutting across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic boundaries and endangering our most precious resource and greatest responsibility: our children. Every year, we reaffirm our commitment to preventing and eliminating the crime of violence against family members. It is disturbing to note that, approximately three-million American children are reported abused and neglected each year. In Arkansas, approximately 6,000 complaints involving almost 9,000 children were found to be valid by the Department of Human Services in the past year. Often times, these children end up in the foster-care system, where they need to find a healthy and nurturing place to call home.
Older children, sibling groups and children with special needs are the most underserved in our foster-care system, and they hope for the same care and compassion as all children in need of an adoptive family. Arkansans considering becoming a foster home or an adoptive family should keep in mind our most fragile children. The Department of Human Services' Web site provides information about becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent. Mentors and volunteers are also needed to provide guidance and care to children waiting for permanent homes.
Our work to improve the education and health of our children must include those children who need additional help to overcome the damage of abuse and neglect. It is remarkable that we have an outstanding resource like Children's House with decades of service from staff and supporters. But our efforts also should aim to reduce the need for facilities like this one, and to ensure that our communities bestow care and compassion on all of Arkansas's children.