Advocates Hope for Input on AZ Child Welfare Reform
PHOENIX - Arizona children's advocates hope they and the community get the chance to add their two cents' worth to a child-welfare reform bill being drawn up by a special committee that includes lawmakers from both parties. The bill-writing group was formed in response to last year's disclosure that 6500 reports of child abuse had not been investigated by Child Protective Services.
According to Children's Action Alliance president Dana Wolfe Naimark, there are three key components that will make a reformed child-welfare system successful.
These include "having an array of different types of responses and different types of services for the different types of situations, as well as leadership and funding and resources," she said. "And we've been missing all three."
Naimark said the approval early this year of nearly $7 million to hire more caseworkers is good, but much more is needed. She said lawmakers must fund a wide variety of services, not only for children in foster care, but also to support families to prevent the need for removal in the first place.
Emily Jenkins, president of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, remarked that a child's trauma from being abused and neglected is significant, but being removed from a family and placed in a foster home without the necessary resources is also very traumatic.
"And the latest research shows that if you remove a child, put them in foster care and they grow up in foster care, that the impact on the child is the same as if you had left them in the abusive home with substance-abusing parents."
Jenkins said the average foster-care length-of-stay in recent years has gone from three or four months to 12 to 17 months.
Over the last five years, Arizona has seen the largest increase of any state in the number of children in foster care. Dana Wolfe Naimark holds out hope for significant action this year by state lawmakers, noting that they are more focused on the child welfare issue than she has ever seen them.
"I have heard legislators from both parties talking about prevention in a way that I have not heard in the last 10 years. Now I'm not sure what they're going to do about it, but at least they're talking about it."
The bill-writing committee hopes to finish its work by May 1 at the latest. If that comes too late for the current legislative session, a special session is a possibility.