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2022 Issues Guide: Child Welfare Policy Priorities
Where We Stand:
Children’s Action Alliance believes that transforming the child welfare system into a more equitable child and family wellbeing system is a critical investment Arizona must make in its future. By working across systems and sectors to promote the health, wellbeing, and financial security of families, Arizona can end child abuse and neglect and the harmful practice of family separation by the child welfare system.
The vast majority of children in Arizona’s foster care system are in care due to neglect, and much of what is deemed “neglect” stems from poverty. Research shows that when families are financially insecure and have high parental stress due to issues like unemployment, housing instability, and food insecurity, children experience “neglect” at a rate seven times greater than other children. For families of color, systemic racism enhances the challenges of poverty bringing them to the attention of child welfare at disproportionately high rates. It doesn’t have to be that way because research also shows that when families have access concrete supports like TANF, childcare, and supportive housing, reports of neglect and entries into foster care decrease.
The path forward is clear: Arizona must reimagine its child welfare system as a child wellbeing system. One that supports family financial security and understands and addresses the root causes of “neglect” and structural racism. We need a system that co-designs solutions with impacted communities and prioritizes family integrity by dramatically reducing family separation. For those families and children that do need foster care, Arizona needs to ensure children are placed where they thrive best, in well-supported kinship foster homes or, secondarily, in community foster homes than instead of in congregate care facilities. The state must also work to set children and families up for success after child welfare involvement ends whether through reunification, guardian, adoption, or aging out.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Risk and protective factors. Violence Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/riskprotectivefactors.html. Sedlak, A.J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., and Li, S. (2010). Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
- There are currently 11,550 children in foster care in Arizona.
- However, that point in time figure masks the true impact of the child welfare system on Arizona’s families:
- 4 out of 10 children in Maricopa County will be the subject of a child welfare investigation by the time they are 18.
- For Black children that number is more than 6 out of 10.
- 87 of foster children are in care due to neglect as opposed to physical abuse (7%) or sexual abuse (2%).
2023 Child Welfare Policy Priorities
- Establish an Arizona Conference on Families, Children and Youth that includes government leaders, representatives from all child and family serving public agencies, community members, and specifically individuals directly impacted by the child welfare involvement to make recommendations for establishing a coordinating committee or state department of child wellbeing.
- Re-define neglect to exempt conditions related to poverty unless they present an imminent safety threat to the child and cannot be addressed by the provision of state assistance including short-term supports.
- Immediately end policies that leave children and families with fewer resources due to system involvement, such as the state’s collection of foster children’s SSI benefits to offset the cost of their care.
- Ensure foster children placed with kin receive the same level of support as they would get in a community foster home.
- Restore child-only TANF for children living with kin outside of the foster care system.
- Fund supportive after care services for all children and families who have experienced foster care, especially young people who aged out.