Arkansas To Again Turn Over Juvenile Centers To Private Operators

Aug 15, 2017

Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds up an action plan from the Department of Human Services. DHS Director Cindy Gillespie stands to the side.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Governor Asa Hutchinson is once again opening up Arkansas’s youth treatment centers to private operators. The state’s residential facilities for children in the juvenile justice system had long been operated privately but the state took over operations in January following a legislative impasse over bidders.

The state begins the bidding process again in December. Department of Human Services - Division of Youth Services Director Betty Guhman said the state’s made improvements while at the helm that they want carried over by private operators.

“We’ve worked with the Division of Behavioral Health at DHS to contract for therapists to work on-site at each of the facilities. We’ve got a full time person on site responsible for those 30 or so youth, managing their treatment plans, and working with them,” said Guhman. “That’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Guhman also praised a recent partnership with Virtual Arkansas she said is providing standardized curriculum provided online, with the addition of some in-person “educational coaches.” Gearing existing staff and resources toward family engagement is a third area heralded as an improvement during the state’s time operating seven youth treatment centers.

Speaking at the Capitol on Monday, Governor Hutchinson approved several DHS recommendations for the DYS system moving forward.

DHS Chief of Security Brian Marr, formerly of the U.S. Secret Service, will oversee a security audit of each facility. The governor gave the green light for a study to be completed in September assessing how to access more federal Medicaid dollars – and decrease reliance on state general revenue. And Hutchinson announced an intent to launch an independent review.

“We would like to have that outside independent look of not just facilities but our whole system of Division of Youth Services, and how we deliver services, what gaps there are, and how we can do better,” said Hutchinson.

He compared its purpose and scope to the 2015 Paul Vincent report on foster care and child services, which led to an influx in state dollars and personnel. $2 million is also being released to help provide community-based alternatives to youth confinement.