- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday said he’s holding a summit of faith-based groups to help with a shortage of homes for foster children and a need for re-entry programs for thousands of inmates leaving the prison system each year.

The Republican governor announced that the “Restore Hope” summit will be held in downtown Little Rock Aug. 25-26 and is aimed at encouraging churches, synagogues and other religious organizations to play a greater role in addressing the two problems.

“What we want to do is inspire greater engagement of our faith community and our religious organizations in supporting the care of our children and those that are leaving prison and re-entering society,” Hutchinson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

“We want them to expand their ministry. We want them to identify any obstacles from a governmental standpoint in partnering with us and carrying out their mission.”

Hutchinson said private funds were being used primarily to pay for the summit’s organization and promotion, including thousands of notices that are being sent to houses of worship encouraging their participation. He said those interested in in participating in the summit will be able to register through the governor’s office website. The steering committee for the summit includes Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders, as well as state officials.

The governor said the summit will help address a “crisis” in the state’s foster care system, with 4,400 foster children under the state’s care but only 2,500 approved beds available for them. Hutchinson said he’s heard of state DHS workers spending all night on the phone trying to find available homes for foster children.

“This is unacceptable for our children, and we have to address it,” he said.

Hutchinson said the faith groups’ help is also needed to find ways to help the roughly 6,000 inmates who will be leaving prison this year as they transition back to society. The Legislature earlier this year approved funding for 500 beds for inmates leaving prison, but he said more work is needed to address the number of ex-prisoners who re-offend and the high unemployment rate among former inmates.


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