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Without CPS, some kids wouldn’t stand a chance

For the past several weeks, Child Protective Services has been getting a lot of attention in the newspapers and on the 6 p.m. news. I’m glad more Arizonans are now worried about how we are protecting children from abuse and neglect. Abused and neglected children are frequently in my thoughts, my worries, and my heart as I get to know their personal stories every month.
I am a volunteer with one of Arizona’s Foster Care Review boards. Our job is to watch over individual children’s cases and to watch over CPS. We review each case of a child in foster care every six months to see whether all of the adults have done their jobs and to give our input on the next steps to help these children move into safe and permanent homes. Some of us also sit on Removal Review teams where we help decide if CPS should remove a child to foster care in the first place or keep him in his home. During these reviews, we consult with CPS, doctors, psychologists and others to determine whether all steps have been taken to help and support a family so they can maintain a safe home for their children. Because removing a child from their family is so traumatic, that decision is never made by one caseworker acting alone. There are numerous steps of review and documentation and input — including oversight by our courts — to prevent children from being placed in foster care unnecessarily.
I wholeheartedly believe that each child has a right to a permanent home that provides nurturing, love, and protection. The volunteers and the professionals working in the system hope that this home is with the child’s birth parents. But getting to know these cases up close and personal has made me realize that this just cannot be for many children who have been victimized by their parents. I greatly admire Governor Napolitano and our state legislators for clearly naming the safety of children as our No. 1 priority. I know that most Arizonans completely agree.
The Foster Care Review boards often review cases of children who have come into foster care after numerous investigations by CPS and numerous attempts to provide in-home services to their families. We see parents who abandon their children, parents who refuse to participate in drug treatment, parents who endanger their children through violence toward each other, and parents who are completely unable to provide the most basic supervision or nurturing for their young children. The report released by the Virginia-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform this week discounts these types of neglect, saying that children do not need foster care if they haven’t been beaten or tortured. We know that a house with an empty refrigerator and rooms full of garbage and feces and drugs can be just as dangerous to a young child. And we know that very young children left home alone for days — or wandering on the streets because their parents are too drugged up to care — are just as unsafe.
Our governor and state lawmakers have been smart and responsible to increase funding significantly over the last several years for substance abuse treatment and other services that can help struggling parents and keep families together. Those resources certainly need to be increased. And we need to do much more to reach out to families before they get into crisis — help with childcare, housing, transportation, drug rehabilitation, job training, and parenting skills.
We also need to continue to invest in CPS and the relatives and foster parents and adoptive families who take on the responsibility to care for kids when their parents can’t. I know the names and stories of many children who wouldn’t have had a chance without CPS stepping in.
Bruce Brannan is the former chairman of the State Foster Care Review Board.

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