Governor Asa Hutchinson Announces Bid for Private Youth Treatment Centers and Independent Review of Division Operations; Accepts Recommendations of DHS Review

LITTLE ROCK – On January 1, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson directed the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Youth Services (DYS) to take over the day-to-day operations of seven of the state’s eight residential treatment centers for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

After spending months assessing and improving core services at these seven juvenile treatment centers, DHS has recommended to the Governor that the State seek a private operator to take over next year. A solicitation is being developed and will be issued for all seven facilities by the end of year. 
“When I directed DHS to take over these juvenile treatment centers, it gave my office and the department a fresh set of eyes and an opportunity to better understand how we could improve current services,” said Governor Hutchinson. “I greatly appreciate the leadership of Director Cindy Gillespie and the hard work of DYS Director Betty Guhman and her staff. I accept these recommendations, and I have no doubt that these substantive changes will better serve our juvenile justice system.”
During the course of the past year, the agency has:
  • Contracted with Community Mental Health Centers to provide a broad array of individual and group mental health and substance abuse treatment services at each regional juvenile treatment center. The Community Mental Health Centers now have a therapist with an office on each campus and the work done for the youth is supported by a psychiatrist via telemedicine.
  • Partnered with Virtual Arkansas to provide standardized curriculum used by public school systems that youth can work at their own pace with the help of online teachers and in-person educational coaches. Virtual Arkansas also provides youth with access to dual credit and coding classes, and eliminates concerns about teacher shortages at the centers’ schools. 
  • Repurposed positions to support family engagement, created new family activities and encouraging team approach to treatment that includes families. 
In addition, the DHS Division of Medical Services has retained a Medicaid consulting firm to identify and develop a plan for DHS to maximize Medicaid funding opportunities related to services offered through DYS. Some services that have been funded by State General Revenue could be provided through Medicaid providers, thus freeing state dollars to be used for innovations and community-based alternatives that will place youth in the least restrictive setting possible while maintaining public safety.
DYS also is in the process of releasing nearly $2 million in Innovation Funds grants that require organizations and judges to work together to create an innovative and individualized proposal to provide alternatives to confinement for youth in their respective judicial districts. 
On Monday, the Governor approved the following actions:
  • A security audit of all seven centers that will identify security weaknesses and ways to address those, prior to completion of the solicitation. This will be overseen by the new DHS Chief of Security, Brian Marr, who recently left the U.S. Secret Service after more than two decades of service.  Upon completion of this review, Chief Marr will conduct a similar review of the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center in Saline County.
  • Incorporating the results of the Medicaid funding study and plan into the solicitation for the centers and into the solicitation for community-based services, in order to address the reliance of DYS operations on state general revenue.  This study will be completed in September of 2017.
  • An independent review of the role and work of the Division of Youth Services, similar to the review conducted by child welfare expert Paul Vincent in 2015 for the DHS Division of Children and Family Services.  
The entire DYS Action Plan can be found HERE.