November is National Adoption Month in Arkansas, and Nov. 21 is National Adoption Day. Today I’d like to share the story of an amazing employee of the Division of Children and Family Services, which is a part of our state Department of Human Services, or DHS. This employee is typical of the hundreds of DHS employees who care for our most vulnerable children all over Arkansas.
But first, let me start with some good news on our state foster-care and adoption programs. During the last fiscal year, Children and Family Services finalized 872 adoptions, and 36% of those children went to live with relatives. Of the over 4,300 children in foster care, 55% were in the system less than a year. Statewide, 84% of the children statewide received a face-to-face monthly visit from a caseworker, and 93% of those children met face-to-face with a staff member, even those who aren’t a caseworker.
And now to the story.
Ewonda Baker, a 27-year program assistant for the agency, is one of those employees whose concern for the children extends beyond her duties.
Ewonda was helping to look after two boys — one 6 and the other 11. She took the younger boy to school every day. On Oct. 12, she arrived as usual at 6:45 at the foster home. When the boys didn’t come out, she called the foster mother, only to learn she was in the hospital with COVID-19; the boys were quarantining with the foster father.
The next morning, Ewonda called to check on the foster mother and learned the foster father was now sick and likely needed to be hospitalized. Ewonda volunteered to care for the boys until Family Services could find a place for them. She put on her mask, shield, gloves and rolled down the windows in her van. The boys climbed into the back seat and she drove to a testing site. Guess what, both boys tested positive. As Family Services staff searched for a placement to take the boys temporarily, Ewonda stayed in the vehicle with the boys for hours.
When Family Services couldn’t find a family that could take the boys, Ewonda volunteered. She already had been with the boys. Family Services accepted Ewonda’s offer and sent the trio to a quarantine house in Searcy that one of the Division’s partners, Methodist Family Health, provided. Ewonda, who has five grown children, said the decision wasn’t difficult. Someone had to take care of the kids.
They were the only occupants of the fully-furnished quarantine house. For 14 days, Ewonda checked the boys’ temperature twice a day and helped them stay on track with their schoolwork. They never developed symptoms. The boys, who aren’t brothers, have been placed with other families. The foster father remains in the hospital but is improving.
Health Department guidelines required Ewonda to quarantine for another 14 days. She can return to work after Nov. 6. She is also back at home with her husband, Brian, who is pastor of St. Mark Community Church in Jacksonville.
Ewonda says her job is more than a job. It’s a ministry. “These kids are more than a file folder,” she says. “These are people who need our help, our love, and compassion.”
Thank you, Ewonda, and all the other employees of DHS who have chosen to help other Arkansans, often at great inconvenience and sometimes at the risk to their own health. I am always amazed by stories such as Ewonda’s but never surprised. That’s who Arkansans are. Many of you have accepted the call to foster or adopt children. Because of you, our foster children have a better life now and a bright future.
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