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Arizona child welfare agency cutting basic services

Arizona child welfare agency cutting basic servicesBasic services for families are being cut at Arizona’s child welfare agency as it tries to adjust to a multi-million dollar budget shortfall and documents obtained by the Arizona Republic show budget problems threaten to limit supervised visits between parents and their children.

One memo cited in the Republic’s report Wednesday says the shortfall is “affecting the service delivery on our cases, particularly visitation, parent-aide services and transportation costs.”

State officials say the Child Protective Services budget gap is up to $35 million. That’s more than 12 percent of the $277 million of state and federal funding provided to the Department of Economic Security division that includes CPS for the budget year that began July 1.

“The department has experienced multiple factors contributing to not being able to keep within our budget,” one email from a CPS administrator said. “These factors have all driven up the costs to the department, which is not allowing the department to keep within our budget and is affecting the service delivery on our cases, particularly visitation, parent-aide services and transportation costs.”

Child-welfare experts say the changes could make it harder to reunite families and further increase the record number of children in foster care. Attorneys for children and parents say CPS in some cases is disobeying court orders requiring more frequent visits for their clients.

The state is delaying some services for months and requiring upper-management approval for what had recently been standard appointments with mentors known as parent aides.

The budget tightening also could jeopardize federal child-welfare funding.

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez said she’s alarmed by the sudden budget adjustments.

“None of this makes sense to me in terms of doing what’s best for the kids. To me, this seems like grounds for some sort of legal action. We’re not fulfilling our responsibility as the guardians of these children,” she said.

State officials acknowledge a current-year budget gap of up to $35 million, about $27 million of it because of the growing number of foster children and the need to place more children in group homes and shelters.

The state has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of kids in foster care this past year, hitting a record 14,500 children last month.

Officials maintain the shortfall has not led to service reductions for families and say the budget gap will be filled with $20 million in federal grant funding intended for a variety of social services.

But internal memos and Republic interviews with service providers, attorneys and others show parents and children are limited to one visit per week even though Maricopa County Juvenile Court judges routinely ordered two visits weekly for babies and children 3 and younger.

“It’s true that there’s no reduction in dollars, but there is a reduction in services if you look at the fact that everybody isn’t able to get services,” said Ron Carpio, a vice president for TERROS, which runs the Families FIRST substance-abuse program in Maricopa County. “They can’t keep up with the visits.”

Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter told The Republic that his agency “must begin to learn to live within our means.” He said it’s too soon to consider asking lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer for a midyear budget increase.

“For a long time in this agency, the Child Protective Services system was allowed to spend whatever it needed to spend, and the rest of the agency would make it up,” Carter said in an interview. “We have requested a budget that we believe allows us to manage this system.”

Department spokesman Tasya Peterson said in an email that no service reductions have been made or are planned in child welfare the current budget year, although the department “will make any necessary adjustments as appropriate.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

2 comments

  1. When are people going to wake up to the fact that Arizona is NOT a family-child friendly state. They only profess to “save the children” when it means Federal $$’s for themselves, grant money and corporate welfare? The hypocrisy of legislating against birth control and family planning which results in thousands of unwanted children and now wanting to provide basic care of education is shameful.

    As long as Arizona’s governor, legislators and special interests favor incarceration over education, families, children and their future are doomed in Arizona, as well as its society future. The growing “prison” state demands a public outcry!

  2. CPS has already notified me that due to its budget my once a week supervised visit with my two children is cancelled as of December 31, 2012. They have no idea when I will be able to see my children after that!

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