Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS)

The Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) is the largest of the state’s agencies. It performs and oversees a variety of services for the citizens of Arkansas, including regulating nursing homes and childcare facilities, operating human development centers for the state’s mentally challenged residents, conducting adoption and foster home programs, and providing mental health services. The ADHS consists of the following divisions: Aging and Adult Services, Behavioral Health Services (which includes the Arkansas State Hospital), Child Care, Child and Family Services, County Operations, Developmental Disabilities Services, Medical Services, Services for the Blind, Volunteerism, and Youth Services.

ADHS was created by Act 38 of 1971 as part of an initiative to reorganize state government and services. ADHS was initially dubbed the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. This new department brought together the state hospitals, Arkansas Children’s Colony, the Arkansas Department of Mental Retardation (created by Act 265 of 1969), the State Department of Public Welfare (created by Act 26 of 1935), the Rehabilitation Service (created by Act 43 of 1955 under the State Board for Vocational Education), the Arkansas Juvenile Training School board and related departments (created by Act 20 of 1968), the Arkansas Commission on Alcoholism (created by Act 411 of 1955), and the Workmen’s Compensation Commission (created by Act 319 of 1939). In addition, a division for the rehabilitation services of the blind was transferred from the Arkansas Department of Education to the new department. In 1985, the state legislature reorganized what had become the Arkansas Department of Human Services into what largely remain its present divisions. In 2005, Governor Mike Huckabee signed Act 1954, merging the ADHS with the Arkansas Department of Health, creating the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, to “provide for administrative cost savings in the delivery of health-related programs by combining overlapping functions and eliminating duplications of functions” of the respective departments. However, on March 19, 2007, soon after Mike Beebe took office as governor, the state legislature passed a bill separating the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services into their respective departments once more.

ADHS has been the center of controversy a number of times. The ADHS asserted a lien against accident victim Heidi Ahlborn to recover Medicaid payments after she reached an out-of-court settlement with those responsible. In court, Ahlborn argued that the agency could only recover the equivalent of past payment for medical expenses. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in Arkansas Department of Human Services v. Ahlborn (2006) that federal prohibitions on liens against personal property to recover Medicaid payments applied to settlements such as this. In 2004, the Conway Human Development Center (formerly the Arkansas Children’s Colony) was the subject of a fifty-page federal report in 2004 describing the facility as “grossly deficient.” The facility of the Arkansas State Hospital was replaced in 2008 in response to criticism that it was inadequate for caring for the mentally ill. Under the administration of Governor Huckabee, the agency was criticized for outsourcing out-patient children’s mental care to evangelical providers such as Ted Suhl and his controversial Lord’s Ranch near Pocahontas (Randolph County). Even after the merger of ADHS with ADH, a study by the legislature found that state policies regarding children’s mental health were long outdated and that the state was spending an inordinate amount of Medicaid funds on residential mental healthcare; this, combined with reports of a number of deaths and incidents of abuse of children under ADHS care, led to calls for reform. In 2009, the legislature passed a law requiring the ADHS to publicly report the deaths and near deaths of children under its care.

In 2015, ADHS was again at the center of controversy after the Arkansas Times broke the story of the actions of state Representative Justin Harris, who reportedly pressured the agency to approve his adoption of a girl whom he later “re-homed” to a man who sexually abused her. The story raised questions about the adoption and foster care services provided by the agency. The following year, in an effort at reform, the agency announced a restructuring to include six offices to provide shared services among the various divisions of ADHS.

For additional information:
Arkansas Department of Human Services. (accessed March 28, 2022).

Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture


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