Arizona’s foster care system in crisis - Eastern Arizona Courier: Safford News

Arizona’s foster care system in crisis

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Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 4:45 am

Children in Arizona are entering the child welfare system due to abuse, neglect or abandonment in increasing numbers, necessitating an increase in qualified out-of-home care placements. Unfortunately, more foster families are exiting the system than entering, and that spells trouble for Arizona’s children.

According to the most recent Child Welfare Report from the Department of Economic Security, 679 foster homes in Arizona closed during the reporting period, while only 663 new ones became licensed.  This number is a small improvement over the previous reporting period (April 2011 through September 2011), which saw 681 homes close and 582 new licenses, but both sets of numbers boil down to the frightening reality that the gaps in the system are widening under the feet of Arizona’s children.

Locally, the situation is not as critical as in higher-populated areas like Tucson and Phoenix.  As of March this year, Safford’s “bed need” was between three and five, and Thatcher was short only one to two beds.  The rest of the county appeared to be flush, due either to fewer reports and removals of children or else more available foster homes.  The number of children removed from Graham County homes encompassed only 0.6 percent of the total statewide number of 12,453.  There is still, however, a need.

Authorities agree that a family environment, like a foster home or relative, is best for children removed from their homes, particularly for babies and toddlers.  As many as 80 percent will have that opportunity, but since children ages 1 to 5 encompass the majority of out-of-home placements (34.7 percent), and many of them have special needs or are part of a sibling group, an idyllic family home can be difficult to find.  According to the Child Welfare Report, the number of children ages 0 through 6 placed in group homes increased by 11 statewide between March 2008 and March 2012.

The reasons for foster families’ closure with the system vary, and the majority (30.4 percent) close because they have decided to adopt the child they have fostered.  Of those, 65.9 percent only spend a year or two with their adoptive placement before adoption is put into motion and finalized.  Many families, however, run into trouble while trying to navigate the system.

“All throughout the (child welfare) system, you can’t get what you need to help the kids you’re caring for,” said Kris Jacober, a Phoenix foster parent and head of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, in a recent interview with Mary K. Reinhart of the Arizona Republic.  “There aren’t the resources.”

AzAFAP aims to increase placement retention by empowering families with information regarding rights and resources, connecting them to others in similar situations and advocating for necessary improvements in the child welfare system.  Event calendars and information are available at azafap.org.

Better access to resources is vital because many children in the child welfare system have a number of serious behavior issues.  The sheer number of children living in out-of-home placements as of March 31 (12,453) would make for a daunting challenge for a service provider with money and qualified staff to spare.  With both Child Protective Service workers and behavioral health providers operating on a regular basis with overstuffed caseloads and malnourished funding, traumatized children have trouble receiving what they need when they need it.  

Lack of timely behavioral health and medical services can set into motion a cycle of perpetual placement moving, when the caretaker of a child with major behaviors feels unable or unwilling to make the placement of a long-term arrangement.  Some children are so affected by the intensity of abuse they have suffered that they become unable to form meaningful relationships or respond to services, and these children typically go through multiple placements.  The average number of placements for children in Arizona’s child welfare system is 2.6.  

    Aside from the lack of security children feel when shuffled from one shift-worker to another in a group home, as opposed to the security of a family situation, placement in a group home or shelter costs the state hundreds more than a regular foster home.  For example, a typical foster home costs about $25 a day, whereas placement in a residential treatment facility can run as high as $350 a day.

    Clearly, reform is needed.  According to kidsarewaiting.org, a Pew Health campaign that worked toward improving the well-being of children in foster care between 2004 and 2009, fewer children would be in foster care today if states were allowed to use federal child welfare funds to provide prevention services (avoiding foster care for some children) and to support postfoster care services to help others leave foster care quickly for safe, permanent families by supporting successful reunification with their parents, adoption or legal guardianships.  Savings created by the decreased need for foster care could be reinvested by states into a continuum of services to keep children safe and stengthen families.

   More information about the Kids Are Waiting: Fix Foster Care Now campaign is available at www.pew health.org/projects/ and the full Child Welfare Report is available at www.azdes.gov /Arizona_Serves, within the “Tool kit” link.

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Welcome to the discussion.

4 comments:

  • hramaglia posted at 7:22 pm on Wed, Oct 10, 2012.

    hramaglia Posts: 1

    I would love to be part of a huge rally campaign to foster connect communities with the foster children in their communities, via the churches. We need more middle class foster homes,but it's hard to entice this population to foster because they don't need the money. But I think if we penetrate their hearts with foster education, through the churches, that we just might have a chance. I hate to say this because it sounds like a sales pitch, but honestly if you read my book "From Foster to Fabulous - One Little Girl's Journey Through Abuse, Foster Care, Aging Out and Life Beyond" I truly feel they would be far less critical of foster children and might even decide to foster, or at least become foster connected. America has a bad taste in their mouths for this plight due to SO MUCH negative attention. Here is what one person had to say after reading my book - "The book From Foster to Fabulous was a most heart wrenching story. As one who has fostered children for over 11 years, I thought I had seen it all, had heard all the stories, and that a child's life could not get much worse. Helen Hall Ramaglia's story, From Foster to Fabulous, showed me differently. Her story is deeply personal, and allows the reader a very personal look at her childhood, one that is quite disturbing, and troubling. Ramaglia writes in a way that invites readers to open their own hearts, allowing her story to touch them in a way like few books do. Whether you are a foster parent or one who has a love for children, this is a book that you will soon not forget. It will move the reader to find ways to reach out to children in need, and try to find ways to help them. Recommended reading!" - Dr. John DeGarmo-foster care expert, speaker, trainer, and author
    Most of the time, after I speak, we see much more foster involvement, because they FINALLY understand so much. Many foster parents have said, thank you so much for helping me understand why my child acts the way he/she does and now I understand how and why I need to parent them differently. They have even said, WOW - we need to get this book into the hands of DFCS, they need to understand the child in this manner and they don't. I am telling you America, you might work with foster children, but you have no idea what it truly does to you to be 'foster'. It consumes every fiber of your body and it eats away the life that lives inside of your heart and the longer you are 'foster' the emptier it gets. The more moves you make the more devastating it is. You MUST understand what your child is going through on the inside in order to help them. PLEASE become foster educated today. This is the only NON FICTION book that takes you on the entire journey and the effects it has on a child well into adulthood. www.fromfostertofabulous.com

     
  • BlueYoda posted at 4:43 pm on Wed, Sep 19, 2012.

    BlueYoda Posts: 5

    What a great opportunity for the LDS church to take a leadership role! The church has the family power and the resources to make a huge difference in this community issue here, the state, and the nation.

     
  • rhondasciortino posted at 1:43 pm on Wed, Sep 19, 2012.

    rhondasciortino Posts: 1

    Where are the churches?? Come on folks... if one family from every church in Arizona became foster parents, and if others families in the church supported the foster family emotionally and with respite care as needed, EVERY FOSTER CHILD WOULD HAVE A GOOD HOME. There are families praying for children, parents praying for grandchildren, lonely people praying for someone to love... let's connect all those folks with the abandoned, abused, and neglected children. Loving someone into wholeness is one of the most significant things anyone can do. www.rhonda.org

     
  • elyseted posted at 11:18 am on Wed, Sep 19, 2012.

    elyseted Posts: 1

    Arizona is not the only state in need of foster parents/families. KidsPeace provides foster care services in nine states throughout the country. Are you interested in opening your home to a child in need? Get more information by filling out the form today. http://www.kidspeace.org/fostercarequestion.aspx