Arkansas still has high teen pregnancy rates

Last week the Joint Education Committee met Monday and Tuesday, with reports from our adequacy study, including ones from the Bureau of Legislative Research.  We reviewed Arkansas and other states’ teacher salaries, as well as how Arkansas schools spend the foundation funding provided by the state. We also heard about various types of courses and how they are taught.
State law allows a one-half credit in our high schools to be taught online, and we heard how a large number of schools do this for their health and wellness classes.  I have requested mapping information to see whether there is a correlation to areas of the state with higher teenage pregnancy rates.  While teen birth rates have declined slightly in the past few years, Arkansas still ranks highest among all states for babies born to girls 15-19.  Statistics generally show that rural areas have higher teen birth rates than urban ones. If there is a correlation, we will look at addressing this in future legislation. 
I have also asked for information regarding the targeted advertising by the Arkansas Attorney General.  Several of you have contacted me with frustration about these ads, which are purchased with money the state receives from lawsuit settlements.  Although legal counsel from the Attorney General’s office advised me in a committee several weeks ago that they maintained what types of ads they run in particular areas and also what types of calls they receive, they have not provided it to date.  I will share what I learn.
Also last week, the House Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee reviewed the 2019 Annual Report from Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division.
This report along with the quarterly reports from the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are difficult to review, but necessary in guiding our decisions of where to place resources.  As I worked with DCFS for more than 12 years prior to becoming a legislator, I well understand these reports and the concerns behind them. 
The annual report states Child Abuse Hot Line operators in the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) of the Arkansas State Police received 67,420 referrals in 2019. Of these referrals, 37,591 were accepted as legally valid allegations of abuse or neglect. They were assigned to the CACD investigators or the DCFS. In 2019, the hotline received 652 fewer calls than in 2018.
Calls to the hotline include educational and medical neglect, inadequate food and housing, and physical and sexual abuse. DCFS reports neglect is the most commonly reported allegation among those that are found to be true.
Major Jeff Drew with the Arkansas State Police testified that calls to the hotline have dropped in recent weeks, as many mandated reporters are not in contact with children. The division is noticing anywhere from 400 to 600 fewer calls a week. 
DCFS Director Mischa Martin told committee members that teachers have historically been the highest volume of mandated reporters. The decline in calls to the hotline continues to be of concern.
DCFS made a decision early in the health emergency to continue to place a priority on the safety of children. As a result, employees with the agency have and will continue face-to-face contact with children.
The report that was presented to our committee is posted at www.arkansashouse.org.  If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline at 800-482-5964.
Like so many of our celebrations and events this year, COVID-19 has had an impact on Juneteenth celebrations around our state.  Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the freeing of slaves in our nation.  Although President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, word did not reach slaves in Texas until June 19, 1965, almost 2 1/2 years later. 
Roy Langstaff shared the celebration’s history over the airwaves of QLite radio station (99.5) in Crossett on Saturday afternoon as QLite broadcast from the MLK Youth Center pavilion during the Juneteenth parade/ride.  Organizers ensured social distancing and many riders, including State Senator Eddie Cheatham, wore masks along the route.  A bigger event is currently scheduled for September.   
This week I’ll be in Little Rock for the Occupational Licensing Committee meeting Monday and again Friday for Arkansas Legislative Council.  If you have a special interest in these or any other committee, please let me know.  Remember you can always watch these live or through archives at www.arkleg.state.ar.us.
Thank you for the honor of representing you.  Please let me know how I can help. Call me at (870) 460-0773, email me at leanne.burch@arkansashouse.org, or message me on my @BurchforAR Facebook page.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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