A little-known state agency is being given a new name and focus with the ultimate goal of keeping the number of kids in foster care from growing.
What had been the Governor’s Office of Children, Youth and Families is now the Office of Youth, Faith and Families. Debbie Moak, who has headed the agency since the beginning of the year, said that reflects a new emphasis on working with the faith-based community to get necessary services for children and their parents.
But Moak is concentrating much of what her agency does in getting parents into treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
She said it’s important to look for help in placing the 17,000 children who are now in state care, having been removed from their own homes.
Gov. Doug Ducey has made that a priority, even to the point of parting ways with some of his backers in saying he is more concerned about placing children into “loving homes” than he is with the sexual orientation of couples. And he even overruled a policy of his own Department of Child Safety, which had decided to refuse to certify legally married gay couples for adoption or permit them to jointly be foster parents.
But Moak said finding more homes for children deals only with the symptoms and not the underlying problem: substance abuse by parents.
“I see so many people putting Band-Aids on gaping wounds when I, in fact, want to put more resources on the front end to solve these issues,” she said. “If we don’t address this, all we’re going to do after taking care of those 17,000 youths (is) we’re going to keep queuing the next batch up year after year.”
DCS figures about 80 percent of the children who have been removed from their homes are victims of neglect rather than actual abuse, a neglect Moak said can most often be traced to the parents’ drug or alcohol abuse.
Moak said her priority goes beyond prevention. She also wants to take care of parents “already in the system” whose children are being removed.
And Moak said she sees the same underlying problem elsewhere, with 82 percent of the girls involved in sex trafficking having a drug-abuse problem.
The basis for her plans, she said, is built on three basic premises.
“Prevention works, treatment is effective, and people do recover,” she said.
For Moak, her beliefs are more than academic.
She has a son, now grown, who is in recovery. And Moak said she lost a sister to addiction and has raised her son.
The office always has been sort of a clearinghouse for various commissions and councils ranging from the Arizona Substance Abuse Partnership and the Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women to the Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission and the Arizona Human Trafficking Council. Moak said one thing her agency can do is find federal dollars to help each of those groups with its own mission.
But Moak said what’s also needed is better coordination between government and private agencies, including those run by faith-based groups. She said there has been resistance to that from both sides.
“They really don’t know each other,” Moak said. “They really don’t tend to have a lot of past engagement together in solving issues.”
So Moak said she is “planting my flag,” telling all the councils and commissions that they are going to work together.
“The state doesn’t have all the resources nor answers that they need,” she said. “Nor does the private sector.”