The number of foster children from Sebastian County dropped by more than 100 over the course of the year.

Sebastian County, which for years has been near the top of Arkansas for both rate and gross number of children in foster care, had 571 children in the system at the end of November — 114 fewer children than at the end of January, according to Department of Human Services records. The drop is the result of a holistic approach taken by DHS officials to the region, said Arkansas Department of Child and Family Services Director Mischa Martin.

"We have really placed a focus on working in Area 2, and specifically in Sebastian County," Martin said. "It was really about providing good services for children and families."

Arkansas as of Dec. 21 had 4,400 foster children without a permanent home. This number is a decrease from the more than 5,000 children in the system three years ago, according to a Governor's Office news release.

Sebastian County in mid-2017 had more than 900 children in foster care, according to former Area 2 Director Melanie Cleveland. More than 800 children from the county were in the foster system at the end of December 2017, said former Sebastian County Court Appointed Special Advocates Director Glenda Evans.

Approximately 790 children from Sebastian and Crawford counties were in the system in April, Cleveland said.

"We took a hyper-focus to Sebastian and Crawford counties," said Martin.

Martin said DHS officials in their efforts over 2018 provided staffing and support to the county offices. This coincides with statewide efforts to provide adequate staffing for local DHS offices — the average load for caseworkers in Arkansas dropped from 26 to 19, the release states.

DHS officials have also focused on timely and appropriate adoptions, reunifications, safety and placement with relatives, Martin said. They've also brought in Casey Family Programs workers to the two counties, she said.

"They’ve been working with staff, they’ve done some permanency training," she said.

Going forward, said she would like to focus on the children who have been in foster care 24 months or longer. The number of Sebastian County foster children who have been in the system for this amount of time or longer rose from 167 in December 2017 to 201 by the end of November 18, according to records.

"We're seeing, 'What can we do to get those kids to permanency?'" Martin said.

And while Martin was pleased with the overall numbers, she said she would still like to see them go down. She said the number drop is a byproduct of the other measures.

"We’re not focused on the number. We’re focused on making good decisions for children," she said.