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Earlier this year the legislature approved additional resources for the state child-welfare system. The governor ordered a top-to-bottom review of the agencies that provide services for children from broken families.

The review is now complete, and the state Division of Children and Family Services is hiring additional employees so that they will not have unmanageably large case loads. The Division will hire 113 new case workers this fiscal year and an another 50 next year.

The Division will retrain existing employees and make sure that managers have the leadership skills to be in supervisory positions. The review ordered by the governor noted that some managers had signed off on unsatisfactory work and needed to do a better job of holding case workers accountable. Supervisors will get additional training.

A lingering problem for the Children and Family Services Division has been high turnover among employees due to low pay, high caseloads and the emotional stress of working with broken families and vulnerable children.

The Division investigates allegations of abuse and neglect, and when necessary, places children in foster homes.

With increased state and federal funding, the Division will buy 655 laptop computers and upgrade the agency's computer system. Employees will have better access to case files and will be able to complete paperwork more easily.

Also this year, the legislature passed Acts 674 and 675 to require public disclosure when children are killed or nearly killed from abuse or neglect.

The agency now maintains a child fatality notification Web site, listing the names, ages and genders of children whose deaths have been reported to the State Police hotline.

Trauma System Grants

The state has approved grants to 68 hospitals seeking to join the statewide trauma network created by the legislature earlier this year. The state has budgeted $25 million this year to create a statewide trauma system.

The state Health Department will award the grants in the fall. They will be $25,000 for Level IV hospitals, the lowest level, which will have to keep a trauma nurse available 24 hours a day. They must have an emergency physician on call.

Level I hospitals will provide the highest level of trauma care. They may receive up to $1 million. They must have specialists and surgeons available 24 hours a day and will offer education and outreach programs to teach people to prevent traumatic injuries.

Medicare Savings Programs

Senior citizens may be eligible for state help in paying for Medicare Part B premiums, as well as Medicare co-insurance and deductibles.

To find out more about the Medicare Savings Program, call either of these numbers: 1-866-801-3435 or 1-800-224-6330.

The state offers three levels of financial help, depending on your income and the amount of assets you own. Your home and your assets will not be touched if you apply. The state will not require you to spend down for help. If you are eligible, you will receive funds from the Medicare Savings Program.

Generally speaking, a couple is eligible for some type of assistance if their assets are less than $6,000 and their income is less than $1,639 a month.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK@arkleg.state.ar.us or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 08/26/2009

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