Local residents and elected officials were provided with information about the foster care situation in Arkansas during a special event hosted by Mercy Fort Smith on Thursday.

The event was held to raise awareness about the foster care crisis in the state, according to a news release. Martin Schreiber, vice president of mission for Mercy, said Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked Mercy to take a leadership role in spreading public awareness and finding solutions to the shortage of foster care homes in the state.

The event began in the lobby of the medical building at Mercy, where guests were invited to socialize and partake in a variety of food and refreshments. Representatives of various organizations were also present to distribute reading material and provide information to those who were interested. These included, among others, One Simple Wish, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Sebastian County and Get Real 24, the Fort Smith Children’s Emergency Shelter Independent Living Program.

Glenda Evans, the executive director of CASA of Sebastian County, who has been with CASA since it was established in 1999, has worked to help abused and neglected children for 38 years, advocating for thousands of children in the Sebastian County area.

During Thursday's event, Evans spoke about the rights of area children being violated because the system that is supposed to take care of them has failed them because of a lack of resources.

"... We're talking about a 6-year-old girl here removed from her sexually abusive father only to be placed in eight different foster homes," Evans said. "And after being placed in eight different foster homes, she went to six different schools over a course of two years. We're talking about a family of four children where the mother was arrested for meth possession. The children ... had a very strong bond with each other, but yet due to the lack of foster homes, all four of these kids were separated. ..."

Evans said this is why more foster homes are needed in Sebastian County. There are more than 750 children currently in foster care in Sebastian County. However, only one-third of these children are placed in Sebastian County. The remaining two-thirds are placed all over the state.

"We need more foster homes here where our kids can stay together," Evans said. "CASA has about half of the kids that are in care. We service half the kids, ... so we're looking at, by the year 2020, of having a CASA volunteer assigned to every child that's in foster care, and that means that we're going to have to have more volunteers. We're going to have to have more money to have more volunteers. ... DHS is in terrible need for transporters. If you can't be a foster parent, then be a transporter. Help DHS out. Volunteer to go up and work in their office to help with files. There's just so many things that you can do to help our kids."