The demand for foster care in Arizona continues to climb, while funding to support the systems continues to fall.
In 10 years, the demand for foster care in Arizona jumped 62 percent while nationally almost 22 percent fewer foster care children entered the system.
This year, 6,000 more children entered into the state’s foster care system and funding hasn’t kept pace with the demand. While demand rose 62 percent in a decade, funding increased 35 percent.
There are approximately 397,000 children in foster care in the U.S., according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System’s data.
“One of the main reasons foster care is so high in Arizona is because we investigate the most reports,” said Jennifer Richards, the director of communications for the state Department of Economic Security. “Many other states don’t go on to investigate reports of neglect and child abuse that occur.”
Kris Jacober, director of the Arizona Foster Parent Association, says a large part of the problem has to do with the decreases in funding from the Arizona State Legislature.
“The funding of resources that once took care of the problems aren’t there anymore. This forces children to be removed from their parents and put into foster care,” Jacober said. “There used to be other resources helping the parents out like case workers, referrals and support services.”
Jacober says the main reason children are put into foster care is neglect from parents and that services to help parents be better could help prevent their children being placed into foster care.
“The answer to the problem isn’t to keep throwing money at it. I hope that the Department of Child Safety is really working on the process and can see what works and what doesn’t,” Jacober said. “You can’t just solve the problem with more resources. You have to solve it with brains, commitment, best practices and information. I have a lot of hope that this is what’s going on because this matters. We are talking about kids and their childhood.”
The National Foster Parent Association’s mission is to support foster parents in achieving safety, permanence and well being for the youth in their care, said Jean Fiorto, NFPA implementation director.
As of today, there are more than 16,200 children in foster care in the state of Arizona, making Arizona lead the nation in the number of children per capita in group or shelter care, according to Arizonans for Children Inc.
Carrie Craft, adoption and foster care expert, says physical abuse is the top reason children enter into the foster care system. Craft has been working professionally in the field of foster and adoptive care since 1996. She is a current adoptive parent and a former foster parent.
The Children Fund, a non-profit organization with a mission of preventing child abuse in communities, reports that one child in Arizona is abused every two hours with child neglect the most prevalent form of child maltreatment.
According to AdoptUSKids, a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau operated through a cooperative agreement with the Adoption Exchange Association, the only qualifications for becoming a foster parent include that you are a legal adult, legal resident of Arizona, 21 years of age and you either own or rent your home or apartment. This poses many problems for proper foster care because too many people meet these requirements. AdoptUSKids is a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau operated through a cooperative agreement with the Adoption Exchange Association.
“Becoming a foster parent is a process that will take time as the licensing agency will have to get to know each potential parent and their ability to care for foster children,” said Roxann Miller home recruitment marketing and communication specialist of Arizona Department of Child Safet.
A 30 hour training session is required before someone can become a foster parent.
“While many foster parents do have previous parenting experience, parenting children who have been neglected and abused is different,” Miller said.
About half of new foster parents stop fostering in their first year, which contributes to the national shortage of foster parents according to “Enhancing Retention of Foster Parents”, a dissertation completed in 2010 by Julie Cohen for the Department of Psychology at the University of Arizona.
According to the Permanence Project, an organization dedicated to the rights of children having a permanent family, 22 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness after turning 18, 33 percent have incomes at or below the poverty line, 25 percent are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and 25 percent are incarcerated within 2 years of aging out of care. Aging out is when a foster child turns 18, and is no longer in the foster care system.
GAP Ministries is an organization in Tucson that provides residential homes for foster children.
“GAP has 14 family style group homes each caring for approximately 10 children, many of whom are brothers and sisters who can stay together because of the size of their houses,” said Tiane Kennedy, public relations director at GAP Ministries.
Foster families can usually only take one or two children at a time into their homes so the children are split between foster homes, separating siblings from one another, said Kennedy.
“Children who don’t get placed into a foster home often times, end up in group homes and some even sleep at the Department of Child Safety office until there is room to fit them in somewhere,” Kennedy said.
Many organizations are trying to improve the foster care situation. One organization stationed in Southern California is Together We Rise, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of foster children in America.
Danny Mendoza, 26, started Together We Rise, when he found out that his 9-year-old cousin was homeless.
“I wanted to do something to help him. The more I did, the more I learned just how screwed up the foster care system is,” Mendoza said. “There aren’t enough foster families that actually care. They lack many resources. For foster kids, they experience PTSD from abuse at just as high or higher rates as war veterans, and they have no services to receive help from once they turn 18.”
Together We Rise helps to transform the way children experience foster care by fundraising and giving them bicycles, suitcases and taking them to fun places. Recently, the organization took 100 kids to Disneyland.
“People need to learn about foster care before we can fix foster care. The only solution to foster care problems is genuine foster families, legislation, volunteers and actual people. The government can only solve so much,” Mendoza said.
Foster Care Statistics- In Arizona and the U.S.
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Child Safety Total Fund Expenditures
*Expenditures include investigations, case management and support services permanency payments like adoption subsidies, in addition to foster care maintenance payments.
($ in Millions)
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