Category: Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Support SB 1458 to ensure young foster children are placed with families, not group homes.

Children thrive in families, not institutions. This is especially true for foster children who have experienced trauma. Research provides "strong and conclusive causal evidence that children exposed to early deprivation benefit from high-quality family-based care, and, more broadly, that the nature of the early caregiving environment has an extensive and lasting impact on development."¹ Conversely, research also shows that that congregate care facilities have inherently detrimental effects on the healthy development of children.² While foster children of all ages do best with families, it is especially important for young children.

Yet, Arizona places more young foster children in congregate care than any other state. Nearly 11% of Arizona’s foster children under 12 are placed in a congregate care setting. The national average is 3%. Arizona’s over reliance on group home placements drives the high rate of congregate care placements for young children.

Fostering Advocates Arizona (FAAZ), a group of young policy advocates who have experienced foster care, and Children’s Action Alliance are teaming up on legislation to curtail the placement of young foster children in group homes and institutions. Senate Bill 1458, sponsored by Senator Bennett, would limit the use of congregate care for foster children under the age of 12 by requiring Director approval prior to placement, an independent assessment of the child’s placement needs, and ongoing court approval and oversight. FAAZ board members understand the lasting impacts of foster care and know that placement with a family rather than in a group home can make all the difference.

SB 1458 will be considered by the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Missing Children on Monday, February 12th.

Please show your support for SB 1458 by asking your Senator for their YES vote!

Download factsheet here.

¹ King, L. S., et al. (2023) A Comprehensive Multilevel Analysis of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project: Causal Effects on Recovery From Early Severe Deprivation. American Journal of Psychiatry. 
² Consensus Statement on Group Care for Children and Adolescents: A Statement of Policy of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry © 2014 American Orthopsychiatric Association. 2014, Vol. 84, No. 3, 219–225 

ON THURSDAY: How to Support LGBTQIA+ Youth in Arizona's Child Welfare System

To register, click here.

For the full flyer with information, click here.

Join us for a virtual webinar this Thursday, January 18th, 2024 from 12:15pm-1:30pm! 

Engage with and learn from LGBTQIA+ folks with system experience, LGBTQIA+ community members, caregivers, advocates, judges and DCS about how to help LGBTQIA+ youth in Arizona's child welfare system thrive.

AGENDA

Opening – Molly Dunn, Children’s Action Alliance

Welcome – David Lujan, AZ Dept. of Child Safety

Who, What, Why? – Currey Cook, Lambda Legal

DCS Policy and Practice – Melissa Compian, AZ DCS

Panel Presentation – 

Panelists: TJ Fowler, Lived Experience Expert

Jennie Hedges, FosterEd Arizona & foster parent

Jennifer Redmond, Divine Sisters LLC Group Home

Judge Lisa Bibbens, Pima County Juvenile Court

Moderator: Brooke Silverthorn, Casey Family Programs

 

Certificates of attendance will be made available upon request.

 

For registration, click here.

For the full flyer with information, click here.

CAA heard at Legislative Hearing on Department of Child Safety

Yesterday, lawmakers from the Senate and House’s Health and Human Services Committees debated whether and for how long the Department of Child Safety should be allowed to continue, as part of the agency’s sunset review. While authorized to recommend continuation for up to 10 years, the Committee voted yesterday to endorse continuation for just 4 years, with two members voting against the continuing of DCS at all.

Children’s Action Alliance provided public comment in support of continuation, noting the progress the agency has made since its inception 10 years ago in clearing a significant backlog of investigations, increasing supports for kinship foster parents, and strengthening services for young people as they transition from foster care to independence. CAA also acknowledged that there is much work to be done. CAA’s child welfare priorities include:  

Increasing transparency and accountability to improve the Department’s performance of its duties to children and families;

Reducing Arizona’s over-reliance on congregate care placements and prioritizing family based settings for children;

Achieving full financial equity for foster children placed with kinship caregivers and offering supports to informal kinship caregivers who play a vital role in keeping Arizona’s children safe and out of the foster care system; and

Addressing the over-representation of Black and Native American children and families in Arizona’s child welfare system.

The mission of DCS has consequential impacts for children and families in Arizona. The creation of the stand-alone child welfare agency 10 years ago enhanced the state’s ability to safeguard children and prevent abuse and neglect. Continuing the Department of Child Safety as an agency is important, and working with a sense of urgency to do better is critical to advancing the safety and wellbeing of children and families in Arizona.

View our letter to the committee, here.

Governor Hobbs Signs Bill Eliminating Administrative Fees in Juvenile Court 

Persistence pays off! On May 26th, after 3 years of advocacy, Governor Hobbs eliminated the burdensome administrative fees routinely levied on children involved in the juvenile court system when she signed SB 1197 into law.  No longer will youth and their families be charged administrative fees for things like diversion programs, probation supervision, access to public defenders, and even to set up payment plans. No longer will children be saddled with debt stemming from these fees well into their adulthood with devastating consequences to their credit. No longer will they be unable to get the student loans, car loans, and rental leases they need to make a fresh start. Instead, these young people will have a fair shot to learn from their mistakes and move forward without being dragged down by the weight of unnecessary court fees.   

Children’s Action Alliance is grateful to Governor Hobbs, bill sponsor Senator David Gowan, co-sponsor Representative Alma Hernandez, and to the legislature for its strong bi-partisan support. We also thank the broad coalition of advocates lead by STAND for Children Arizona and supported by the Berkeley Law Public Advocacy Clinic for their steadfast efforts and are especially grateful to the Arizona youth and families who told their stories and spoke out against these unjust fees.  

 To learn more: watch an explainer video about the issue.

Fostering Youth Transitions Report Released During National Foster Care Month

Permanent families and supportive adult connections, stable housing and postsecondary education remain beyond reach for too many young people with foster care experience, according to Fostering Youth Transitions 2023: State and National Data to Drive Foster Care Advocacy, a data brief released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation earlier in May which is National Foster Care Month. The data brief examines the experiences of young people ages 14 to 21 who were in foster care between 2006 and 2021. Drawing on 15 years of data, the report details how young people are faring and aims to equip policymakers, child welfare leaders and practitioners, and communities with data to support decision-making that improves outcomes for young people in and transitioning from foster care.

Nationally, the data shows some positive gains. The overall population of young people 14 and older entering care has fallen, use of group placements is down, and placement of young people with close relatives is up. Arizona follows these national trends but to different degrees. The state experienced only a modest decrease in the proportion of youth 14 and older included in the state’s foster care population. Arizona’s use of group care fell by just 3 percentage points while its 14-percentage-point-increase in the use of kinship care far outstripped the rate of growth nationally. Of note, while the use of supervised independent living arrangements grew by 7 percentage points on the national level, in Arizona it decreased from 9% to less than 3%.

The data also reveals some persistent negative trends. Nationally, and in Arizona, more than half of youth age out of care without a permanent family and too many continue to be unable to access safe and stable housing, connect to post-secondary education and training, and find employment. While Arizona out-paces the national average in extended foster care participation (52% AZ/24% US), it connects young people to transition services at a rate far lower than the still-too-low US average (29% AZ/47% US).

Overall, the report shows that despite some gains, child welfare systems in Arizona and across the nation are still not connecting enough foster youth to the relationships, resources, and opportunities they need to grow into successful adults. Arizona should use the report, and this companion guide developed by youth with lived experience in foster care, to engage in community conversations and spur data-driven systems and policy change to help youth succeed in adulthood.

Learn More:

  • Read the Brief
  • Get the Community Conversation Guide
  • Explore Journey to Success, a policy campaign that seeks to improve opportunities and outcomes for all youth and young adults who experience foster care by promoting their healing, family connections, and economic security.

Arizona poised to end seizure of benefits owed to foster children

Arizona is one of a growing number of states considering proposals to prohibit child welfare agencies from seizing foster children’s federal benefits. Nationwide and in Arizona, roughly 5% of all children and youth in foster care qualify for Social Security Administration disability and survivor benefits. They qualify for these benefits because they are disabled or have lost their parents. But most foster children never see these benefits, or even know that are receiving them. That is because the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) intercepts the funds and applies them to the costs of the child’s own foster care. This longstanding practice, known as “benefits mining,” has come under scrutiny following a 2021 investigation by the Marshall Project and National Public Radio. The investigation estimated that in 2018 alone, child welfare agencies across the US seized $165 million dollars owed to foster children and used the money to pay for the costs of their foster care placements. During the 2022 Arizona State Fiscal year, DCS seized an average of $764 a month from nearly 700 foster children, totaling $6.25M in revenue.   

Legislation to end Arizona’s practice of "benefits minin" is currently working its way through the state legislature. House Bill 2559 (Montenegro) will prevent DCS from using children’s federal benefits to pay for the cost of their own care while in DCS custody and require that the benefits be accounted for, protected, and saved for the children’s own use when they exit foster care. The fate of HB 2559 will depend on whether it survives state budget negotiations as a General Fund appropriation will be needed to make up the dollars that DCS will lose.   

While the funds DCS “mines” from foster children represents just a tiny fraction of the agency’s budget, for a child who has experienced foster care they represent the ability to pay for college, a car, a house, or even food and other necessities. For a young adult who may not have another safety net after aging out of care, these funds can be the difference between surviving and thriving.  

Learn More 

The Importance of Federal Spending for Children

A new report released last week underscores the importance of federal investments on issues that impact children and families. It is often said that your priorities are reflected in where you spend your money, and it seems children are. An afterthought when budgets are created. The 2022 Children's Budget, an annual report compiled by the national bipartisan advocacy group First Focus on Kids, looks at the federal share of combined spending dedicated to children across federal agencies. And the findings say a great deal about the nation’s priorities.

This year’s report shows a game-changing shift. In the last budget year prior to the pandemic (2020), the share of spending on children dropped to a record low of 7.55%. The COVID pandemic assistance combined with new federal initiatives introduced under the Biden Administration have increased the share of spending to 11.98%. Policies like the enhanced child tax credit, child care stabilization grants and expanded school nutrition programs were instrumental to lifting millions of Americans out of poverty.

Some other key findings:

  • Funding for children’s mental health has increased by 11.3%.
  • Funding for children’s environmental health increased by 25%.
  • Funding for dedicated to education programs increased by 105%.
  • Funding for justice and child protection increased by 28%

Despite their bipartisan popularity and success, many of these issues and initiatives are only temporary, and so are the gains. Some, like enhanced Child Tax Credits, have already expired. Others, such as the Public Health Emergency declaration that kept millions of families on health insurance coverage, are nearing their end. Without further action, these gains will be lost. Please continue to ask your representatives to to invest federal spending on initiatives that help children.

Read report here

Passage of SB 1050 is a First Step in Rethinking Neglect

Passage of SB 1050 is a First Step in Rethinking Neglect: To prevent child maltreatment, Arizona must rethink both how it defines and responds to neglect. 

By replacing one word, Senate Bill 1050 (Townsend), made a small but significant shift in the way the state defines child neglect. A finding of neglect now requires that the inability or unwillingness of a parent to provide supervision, food, clothing, shelter, or medical care must cause a substantial risk of harm to a child’s health or welfare, rather than merely an unreasonable risk of harm. While the change is subtle and may have limited immediate impact, it is an important recognition that children should not be separated from their parents just because they are poor. Or, at least, a recognition that the time has come for Arizona to rethink the use of foster care as a response to poverty-related child neglect.  

Each year, Arizona’s child abuse and neglect hotline receives over 75,000 referrals for child maltreatment. Ninety-two percent are for neglect.1 Among children in foster care, neglect is cited as one of the reasons for removal 87% of the time.2 Much of what the child welfare system deems “neglect” stems from poverty. Research shows that families that experience poverty-related stressors such as income insecurity, housing instability, and food insecurity are more likely to come into contact with the child welfare system.3 For families of color, systemic racism heightens those challenges bringing them to the attention of child welfare at disproportionately high rates.4  

A growing body of research also shows that when family economic security is addressed through fiscal supports, neglect and child welfare involvement decreases. Recent studies have found: 

  • A $1 increase in minimum wage is associated with a 10.9% decline in neglect reports involving young children. 
  • More generous state food stamp benefits lead to both fewer reports of child maltreatment and less use of foster care. For every 5% increase in enrollment of low income, the number of children in foster care was reduced by 7.6% to 14.3%.  
  • Federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit programs are associated with immediate reductions in child maltreatment reporting. For each additional $1,000 in per-child EITC and CTC tax refunds, state-level rates of reported child maltreatment declined in the week of and four weeks following refund payment by 5%.  
  • A 10% increase in State Earned Income Tax Credit (provided in 29 states on top of the federal credit) leads to a 9% drop in neglect reports.  

In its 2015 publication, The ‘Neglect of Neglect’, ASU’s Morrison Institute of Public Policy called on Arizona to define neglect more clearly in order to address it more effectively, offering:   

“Policy makers and researchers must ask: Is a child is not eating enough because the parent is negligent, or because the family doesn’t have enough money to buy food? The effort to protect children cannot include punishing families for being poor.” 

While there can be no doubt that neglect can cause significant and lasting harm to children, especially very young children, the policy decision to respond to poverty-related neglect through family separation by the foster care system must be called into question. Arizona needs to rethink neglect and how we respond to it—and most, importantly, how we can prevent it by investing in the financial wellbeing of families. The passage of SB 1050 is a good first step.  

Your voice is needed to get 2022 health wins over the finish line

CAA and our partners worked hard this year to get the legislature to approve changes to our Medicaid and CHIP programs (AHCCCS and KidsCare). Thanks to your advocacy, the legislature passed bills making it easier for people to access high quality, affordable health coverage.   

Now AHCCCS needs our help to get these changes over the finish line!  

Postpartum coverage: The state legislature passed a bill extending postpartum Medicaid coverage period from just 60 days to 12 months after pregnancy. AHCCCS is accepting public comments on this measure until August 29th. This is a final step before the extension can be implemented, and we want them to know we are supportive! Postpartum coverage omments can be submitted by email to publicinput@azahcccs.gov. 

EPSDT: AHCCCS is also proposing several important changes to its Early and Periodic Diagnostic, Screening and Testing (EPSDT) policies. We believe these changes will support child and family health and promote equity. The public can view and submit your thoughts on the proposed changes via this portal. Comments on these changes are due by September 1st 

It’s important that we go on record to tell our Medicaid agency why these changes are needed and how they will benefit our communities.  

If you’re not sure where to start, feel free to download and modify our template comments (linked here).