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DEATHS OF FOSTER CHILDREN IN ARKANSAS STATE CUSTODY

Currently Arkansas Department of Human Services is investigating four child deaths. Each of the four children died in the last two months. This happened after years of no foster child deaths in the state.

Devethia Delancy recites a poem about her life in foster care. "I'm a strong black woman who's been through suffering and pain. Momma ran out like the coward she is, had to grow up at the age of ten," says Delancy. In 2006, Delancy was one of 9,000 kids living in foster care in Arkansas. She says her experience was mostly bad. "I've been raped in one foster home. I've been beaten in the other one; I've been starved in one," describes Delancy.

She's not alone, Tara Manthey with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families says the child welfare system in Arkansas is alarming. "There were four deaths of children in foster care and two are being investigated for abuse." The Annie E. Casey Foundation made a 2008 Kids Count chart comparing child safety throughout the nation. Arkansas is ranked 45th partially because its child death rate is above the national average. Julie Munsell with DHS says they're investing the recent deaths to find out what went wrong in the state's attempt to help these children. "One thing you want to do is exhaust every possible avenue to protect that child once they come into your care," says Munsell.

DHS has closed its investigation into 11 other deaths of children in 2008 who died within 12 months after reports to the agency. In each case, abuse is named as the cause of death. However, these children weren't in foster care.

Delancy is now a mom herself and in a work training program. She says if any foster child is being abused, they need to tell someone, like she did. DHS says its child abuse investigation division is only 88 percent staffed, so they've been behind on investigating complaints. However, the agency is working to fix that.

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