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Arizona foster-care numbers rose over decade, as national numbers fell

Advocates hold photos of foster children during an April 2013 rally af the Arizona State Courts bulding in Phoenix.

Advocates hold photos of foster children during an April 2013 rally af the Arizona State Courts bulding in Phoenix.

WASHINGTON – Arizona saw the number of kids in its foster care system rise significantly from 2002-2012, a time when most other states were posting sharp drops in their foster care rolls, according to new federal data.

The report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said Arizona was one of 11 states with an increase in foster children and one of only two – along with Texas – with significant increases.

Arizona had the second-largest increase in the nation over the decade, adding 7,296 children to Texas’ 8,294. There were 15,751 foster kids in Arizona at the end of March, according to the latest numbers from the state.

Advocates said the numbers are more evidence of a state foster care system in crisis, one that has been “overworked and overwhelmed” as budgets have been cut.

“There was a perfect storm of things – the recession hit, the budget cuts had to be made and so more kids were coming in to care,” said Russ Funk, director of marketing and family recruitment at Aid to Adoption of Special Kids.

State officials said there is no one reason for the increase, but expressed confidence that recent improvements will have an effect.

After reports in late 2013 that more than 6,000 foster-care cases had not been investigated, Gov. Jan Brewer created a Child Advocate Response Examination (CARE) Team of lawmakers, advocates and state officials to oversee those cases and monitor Child Protective Services.

And the Legislature this spring voted to give oversight of the state’s foster care system to a new Department of Child Safety.

Jennifer Bowser, a spokeswoman for the new department, said she has seen improvements made “all over the place” to the state’s child care system since the agency’s creation.

Bowser said the state is revamping its training process for caseworkers, has reviewed legislation for additional staffing and is making significant progress on backlogged cases.

The 15,751 children in out-of-home care this March represented an increase of 714 children from the previous year, according to the state.

While the state is attempting to improve the child protective services system and provide more preventive services, families are still faced with challenges that put them in difficult situations – situations that can lead to their children being placed in foster care.

“There are a variety of different reasons that children become neglected or put at risk of being neglected when their parents are struggling,” Funk said.

Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice at Children’s Action Alliance, said the increases are occurring because of a system that has been “overworked and overwhelmed.”

“We were bringing more kids in to the system than the kids were leaving the system,” she said.

Funk said a prime factor for the surge of children in the Arizona foster care system was budget cuts during the recession that led to reductions in preventive services, such as parenting skill workshops and addiction rehab support.

And while the system was gaining kids, Funk said, there are “fewer caseworkers handling more cases with less services in place to help return those children” to their families.

Bowser agreed that socioeconomic challenges and substance-abuse issues could make it more likely that a child is removed from his or her home.

“If we can provide more prevention services – early intervention services – the hope is to not have the children need to be removed,” she said.

One comment

  1. Foster care is A FAILED EXPERIMENT. State propaganda will continue to recruit more foster families so that we can fail more children. Why? An incentive given to states for federal dollars, based on the number of children they remove. Every child in foster care represents a family destroyed and money for state coffers. It represents a loss for that child of his right to be raised by his biological parent, an ill respected concept by certain segments of the population. It represents a failure of the state to rehabilitate a parent or child unnecessarily removed. The solution offered by the author is more adoption. That band-aid fails to identify the root cause of the problem. These opinions are mostly based on the faith that a fair and just system is removing these children. In other words, that they are all truly abused and neglected. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Judges are appointed not accountable to the people, Attorney’s are appointed and paid $1000 per case, hardly enough to represent a contested dependency. Trial time limits are not enforceable according to jurisprudence in the name of the best interest of the child. Hearsay is allowed at trial. The burden of proof is the lowest possible court standard. Rules of evidence are optional as well as discovery. Even the statutes, meaning LAWS, are not enforceable if a judge’s thinks that following the law would not be in the “best interest of the child”. Factor in the federal incentives to remove and What you have is the illusion of due process for child and parent but not due process. Consequently, the process is prone to error. That means placing children in foster care (The System) that shouldn’t be there or failing to rehabilitate or recognize a rehabilitated parent. The solution is to do what everyone expects. Remove children when parents have abused or neglected their children beyond reasonable doubt with all the protections afforded to criminal defendants. The “fast track” to remove children created by CAPTA circumvents the constitutional rights of parents, substitutes parental authority for judicial opinion and makes it easier to remove someone flesh and blood child than it is to remove a piece of property.

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