Protecting the Children while Destroying the Child.

cps_logo_flag1[1]Do you believe Arizona’s families are more abusive than other states? Yet Arizona ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to child protective services.

Did you know that children in foster care are at a far greater risk of failure in adult life? A recent study by the National Health Statistics Report dated May 7, 2014, Adverse Family Experiences Among Children in Non-Parental Care, reveals that only 18.7% of children in foster care have no adverse family experiences compared to 70% of the children raised by their parents. Nearly half of the children in foster care have 4 or more adverse experiences.

Do you truly want to help the children?

Now is the time for the state to take the correct actions. You had it right when both houses unanimously passed SB1386 to spend $250,000 for an independent review of the current CPS system in Arizona.

In the past 20 months Arizona’s CPS has removed more than 5,000 additional children from their families, with the state standing at over 16,000 children in foster care today. If those 5,000 children were all placed in foster care it cost the state $3,000,000 per month just in foster care placement! Why would the governor not be willing to spend $250,000 to get an independent review to be sure the state makes the correct decisions before moving forward? Is it not fiscally responsible to fully investigate the problem before throwing another $60 million to find it only made the situation worse?

Why is it every time Arizona has a media crisis over child welfare does the state have another governor’s task force which results in more spending and an increase in the number of children in foster care, only to have the next media crisis a few years later because another group of children weren’t protected? The C.A.R.E. team is no different.

The C.A.R.E. team based their recommendations on input from those within the agency and those directly benefiting from the removal of children. They refused to accept information from the victims of CPS abuse, from the families of the children removed from their homes. They didn’t want to hear from the other side of the issue.

Our family lived through the removal of 9 grandchildren by CPS in Arizona. We witnessed first hand the abuse of the system itself. We experienced what no family should ever have to experience. The children became victims of a system that believes they are above the law in refusing to obey those laws the Arizona legislature has already put in place. Arizona actually has some of the best family rights/child protection laws in place. The problem isn’t always the law. The problem today is an out-of-control agency who refuses to abide by the law.

Unfortunately there are abusive parents in the world making a child protection agency necessary. But that agency should not be causing more abuse and permanent damage to the child than even a marginal family. Yet that is what we have today in Arizona.

Instead of become a victim of the system, we chose to observe, document, report and become an advocate for the protection of children and families. We created a citizens report of our own experience with CPS and the deficiencies we witnessed throughout the process. Our report is based on what went wrong within the system and our recommendations of what could be changed to improve the system.

Our report is attached. We hope you will take the time before the special session beginning on Tuesday to review our information, the information the C.A.R.E. team refused to accept. Then we hope you will once again support the spending of $250,000 for an independent review to analyze all sides of the problem to create an agency that will truly protect the child. We do not need to continue down the path of expanding the agency with the mission of “protecting the children while destroying the child.”

AZ Project 2014 Recommendations


New Study: Adverse Family Experiences Among Children in Nonparental Care

On May 7, 2014, the results of a new study were relased by The U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. The report explains that children who are raised by both biological Mom and Dad are more likely to have a safe, happy childhood.

According to the study, the worst outcomes for experiencing traumatic events comes from children in foster care, with no biological parental involvement. Following that category, those raised by one biological parent, and those raised by relatives other than parents come in ranking only behind children who are raised by both parents.

Seventy percent of children raised by their biological parents had no adverse family experiences, compared to only 21.7 percent of those raised by one biological parent, and 18.7 percent of those raised by neither of their biological parents. The study found that as the involvement of biological parents decreased, the likelihood of a child experiencing multiple traumatic events increased.


While it is easy to become mired in the numbers when reviewing such reports, some crystal clear trends emerge from this one:

When examining the prevalence of children with no adverse experiences versus any adverse experiences, the difference between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent was quite small. However, as the number of cumulative experiences compared increased, the differences between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent grew. Children in nonparental care were about twice as likely as children living with one biological parent to have experienced four or more adverse events.


The study’s results are of particular concern given the high emphasis placed on child removal and foster care placement as the intervention of choice for many families. The report explains:

Children in foster care were particularly likely to have had multiple types of adverse experiences; almost one-half of them had had four or more. More than one-half of children in foster care had ever experienced caregiver violence or caregiver incarceration and almost two-thirds had lived with someone who had an alcohol or drug problem.

A few words of caution are in order. The study explains: “It is likely that some children in nonparental care find themselves in that situation because they had experienced certain adverse family circumstances that necessitated the removal of the child from the birth family – that is, the adverse experience preceded and perhaps even contributed to the nonparental care status rather than being merely associated with it. For example, more than one-half of children entering foster care in 2007 had experienced severe parental neglect and nearly 30% had experienced parental alcohol or drug abuse as contributing reasons for entering foster care.”


A few words about “parental neglect” are in order before proceeding. Neglect is a broad-sweeping accusation that may encompass anything from taking your eyes off of a child for a few moments, to accumulating excessive absences from school, to shouting at your child from your driveway, to providing an insufficient home environment.

Douglas J. Besharov and Jacob W. Dembosky describe “definitional creep,” the phenomenon of ever-expanding definitions of abuse, neglect, and children “in danger of being harmed according to the views of community professionals or child-protective service agencies.”

The Florida Supreme Court grappled with this issue as long ago as 1977. When the state’s neglect statute was challenged, the Court ruled that “without some statutory standards or guidelines, the Legislature has effectively set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders and has left to the courts the power to say who should be detained and who should be set at large. Such a statute is dangerous and does not provide due process of law.” As the ruling in State v. Winters, 346 So.2d 991 (Fla.1977) explained:

A palacial mansion that is clean and spacious could fail to qualify as “necessary shelter,” if it had no heat. A small, overcrowded log cabin may, on the other hand, meet the test. Depending upon the standard adopted, any given shelter, whether in the suburbs or the ghetto, could be found to fall short of “necessary shelter.” Similarly, each person must ask just how much and what quality of food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment he must provide to avoid jeopardy. Nothing in the statute gives us the answer. There are no guidelines.

The state’s legislators rewrote the offending statute, in an effort to effect a constitutional cure. However, in State v. Ayers, 665 So.2d 296 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) the statutes were still found wanting for lack of clarity. Florida’s child savers went back to work, this time adding “willfully or by culpable negligence” language to the child neglect statute. Hovever, Arnold v. State, 755 So.2d 796 (2000) still found it hard to digest the broad, sweeping mandates that constituted the legislative definition of “child neglect.”

The terms “alcohol or drug abuse” are almost-always added to the mix to justify child removals. The reality is that we are not finding junkies having babies in back alleys while shooting up with dirty needles – but that is precisely the impression that the child protection industry wants to convey.

iAlexandria Hill was rescued from parents who smoked marijuana as she slept.

Far more typical is the tragic story of Alexandra Hill, who was removed from her home by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services in November 2012 on a claim of “neglectful supervision.”

Alexandria’s dad, Joshua, readily admits they were smoking pot when their daughter was asleep.

“We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care,” he said to reporters at KVUE TV.

Nevertheless, that was apparently neglectful enough of a situation for Alexandria to wind up in foster care. Presumably her removal and subsequent placement were sanctified by a judge, at some point in time.

Her outcome was the worst imaginable. Two-year-old Alexandria was rushed to Scott and White Children’s Emergency Hospital and immediately placed on life support. After an investigation, the foster mother’s charges were upgraded to capital murder. Texas MENTOR, the private agency that oversaw the foster home in which she was placed, had a long history of violations.

Bearing in mind that the majority of child removals involve neglect – and certainly do not involve anything resembling what most people would consider as “abuse” – we return once again to the study on hand. The research found that:

Nearly one-half of children in foster care (48.3%) had had four or more adverse experiences, compared with 25%–30% of children in each of the other three caregiver subgroups. Among those other nonparental care subgroups, differences were smaller and mostly nonsignificant.

This is consistent with some other studies of recent vintage regarding outcomes.

According to a California Senate Office of Research study reported on in December 2011, a state survey found that of 2,564 adult prisoners in the state, 14 percent said that they had been in foster care at some point in their lives. The study also found that: “Of the surveyed inmates who had been in foster care, 52 percent of the males and 45 percent of the females said they had resided in group homes. Thirty-one percent of the male inmates and 35 percent of the females lived with a foster family.”

Over one half of the males and nearly half of the females in this population graduated from group home settings.

A British study of children in care or custody released in December 2012 by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate explains: “the overall outcomes and future life chances for these children and young people are extremely poor. The fact that they were away from their home areas and were moved frequently militated against their chances of rehabilitation. The fact of being looked after could escalate a child into the criminal justice system.”

The British study continues on to explain: “In the overwhelming majority of the cases that we inspected, the outcomes for the children and young people were poor. Children and young people were not always protected. Some had been assaulted or sexually exploited; some had themselves assaulted or exploited other children and young people. They had often been criminalised while in care for offences that would probably not have gone to court if they had been living at home. A significant number had gone missing at some point, some a substantial number of times. Their education had suffered and few were well prepared or supported for transition to adulthood.”

The most recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics mentions parental incarceration as among the difficulties faced by foster children. But this raises the question of which is the proverbial chicken, and which is the proverbial egg? There are many disturbing outcomes resulting from child removal and foster care placement that are as yet incompletely understood.

A 2004 study published by the Vera Institute for Justice examined the chronology of arrest, incarceration, and child placement. Researchers noted that: “Many observers worry that the war on drugs and harsher punishments for minor crimes has resulted in more children entering foster care. The data suggest that the opposite is true.”

Contrary to their expectations, the researchers found that: “The vast majority (90 percent) of maternal incarcerations that overlapped child placement started after child placement, as did 85 percent of the arrests that led to those incarcerations. Child removal appears to accelerate criminal activity among the study group’s mothers.”

From Fiscal Year 1997 (the year of removal) to FY 1999, the study group mothers averaged 2.6 convictions each, “a rate far higher than in the pre-removal years.” The researchers came to a startling conclusion — one that is certainly not mentioned with favor among those in the child protection industry. That is that: “family preservation efforts may function as a crime reduction tool. Successful efforts to avert placement not only keep families together and children out of foster care, but can also prevent the increase in maternal criminal activity that can take place following a child’s removal.”

Marilyn C. Moses, a Social Science Analyst at the National Institute of Justice, reported the results of a follow-up study that arrived at much the same conclusion. Researchers from the University of California and the University of Chicago focused on mothers who were incarcerated in Illinois State prisons and the Cook County area, finding that more than one-fourth (27 percent) of the mothers who had been incarcerated also had a child who had been placed in foster care at some point during the child’s life.

“But surprisingly, researchers found, the mother’s incarceration was not the reason the child was placed in foster care,” Moses explained. While the results appeared to be counter-intuitive, they were nevertheless consistent with those of the earlier Vera Institute study:

In fact, in almost three-quarters of the cases, children were placed in foster care prior to the mother’s first period of incarceration. And in more than 40 percent of those cases, the children entered foster care as many as 3 years before their mothers went to jail.

This finding contradicts a widely held assumption that children are placed in foster care as a direct result of their parents’ incarceration. The early findings indicate that a child’s foster care status is rarely a direct result of a mother’s arrest and imprisonment.

Researchers often appear to be perplexed by such results, perhaps in part because they cling to the perspective that state “intervention” into family life is ipso facto beneficial. Indeed, identifying the “risks” associated with foster care, incarceration, probation, and other interventions frequently becomes an end in and of itself, with researchers paving the way for further inquiry into the devising of appropriate additional interventions to undo the damage done by the original ones.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Foster adoptions may be reducing foster parent pool

53722a0914185.preview-300[1]An effort that started a few years ago to help children languishing in state care may be diminishing the pool of foster parents, according to Irene Clements, president of the National Foster Parent Association based in Minnesota.

There are from 400,000 to 420,000 children nationally in foster care at a given moment, Clements said. About seven or eight years ago, states began recruiting parents who wanted to adopt children to become foster parents. It is considerably cheaper to adopt a foster child, she said, having adopted three of the 127 children she and her husband have fostered.

“The nature of foster care has changed,” she said. “Because people are coming into it more with a mindset to adopt, we don’t have as many long-term foster care parents.”

Up to 62 percent of children who are adopted out of foster care are adopted by foster parents, she said. But she warns such adoptions can have stumbling blocks, such as relatives stepping forward at the last minute during a court proceeding.“There are a lot of broken-hearted foster parents out there,” she said. Many judges and court officials subscribe to “blood is thicker than water.” “It’s just all but impossible to stop a relative from taking a young child.”

Nationally, the number of children in foster care has been declining.

Today, there are almost 25 percent fewer children in foster care in the U.S. than there were in 2002.

John Heithaus, chief development officer for the Family Resource Center in St. Louis, says the biggest challenges the local foster care system faces are finding homes for older children and siblings.

“We recently had five siblings come into care at 5 p.m. on a Friday night, and we struggled mightily to find a foster home that would take all five of them — just for the night.”

There’s a growing need for foster homes for siblings, according to Shannon Mann, associate supervisor of the licensing unit with the Children’s Permanency Partnership. “It seems that there has been an increase in siblings groups entering foster care in varying ages.”

There is also a need for homes for teens and older children, she added.

The average age of children in foster care in Missouri is 10, with 12,160 children in foster care, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Read More at: Foster adoptions may be reducing foster parent pool


A version of this column originally appeared in:

Temecula Woman Accused Of Stealing From Children In Foster Care Scam

Vivian Lieska Benn Photo/Riverside County Sheriff's Dept.

Vivian Lieska Benn Photo/Riverside County Sheriff's Dept.

A Temecula woman has been accused of what Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said amounts to “one of the worst crimes imaginable”: stealing money intended to benefit foster kids.

Vivian Lieska Benn, 40, was arrested Wednesday evening after she was pulled over by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies on Interstate 215 near Murrieta Hot Springs Road. Benn is the owner and CEO of Riverside-based Family Hope Foster Family Agency.

According to a news release from the DA’s office, Benn has been charged with six counts of embezzlement by a public officer, and one count each of embezzling property by a public officer and money laundering.

She is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

“The government spends millions of dollars every year for the care and well-being of foster children in Riverside County,” Zellerbach said. “The lives of these children have already been severely disrupted so for someone who has been entrusted with their care to steal funds intended to benefit those children is certainly one of the worst crimes imaginable. This office will prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law.”

Foster family agencies are licensed by the California Department of Social Services and are required to be non-profit organizations, according to the DA’s news release. Benn’s arrest follows a 2009 audit by the Riverside County Auditor-Controller’s Office of the county’s Department of Public Social Services and several foster family groups homes and agencies.

“Foster family agencies are used to hire, license and oversee foster parents for the placement of foster children. Funding for foster care children comes from local, state and federal funds. In Riverside County, the foster care program is administered by Department of Public Social Services,” the news release read.

The 2009 audit determined that about $1.2 million of payments made to Family Hope FFA by the county DPSS was unaccounted for, the news release stated. That led to an investigation that began in June 2012.

“The DA’s investigation found that, from 2004-2009, Family Hope FFA received millions of dollars of public money from DPSS intended for the care of foster children. It is charged that, from Jan. 1, 2004, and Nov. 16, 2009, Benn embezzled about $400,000 from Family Hope FFA. As the person responsible for the safekeeping and disbursement of these public monies, Benn also is charged with misappropriation of those funds for her personal use,” the news release read.

The investigation also found that, from April 30, 2007, and Sept. 4, 2009, Benn embezzled and misappropriated an additional amount of about $125,000 by transferring those funds into a bank account Benn created called Brooklyn Financial, the DA’s office alleges.

“That account was determined to be a ‘shell company’ she created in her daughter’s name to hide money and avoid Internal Revenue Service garnishments,” the news release continued.

The transfer of these funds into the Brooklyn Financial account led to the money laundering charge.

“It is despicable and selfish for anyone to embezzle money at the expense of children who have suffered so much in their young lives,” said Susan Loew, director of the county Department of Public Social Services. “People who steal from children should feel the full weight of the law.”


A version of this column originally appeared in

Number of Kansas children in foster care continues to grow

Photo illustration/Getty Images
The number of Kansas children who are wards of the state is nearing a record high while fewer are exiting the foster care system.

TOPEKA — Over the last two years, near-record numbers of children have entered the state’s foster care system.

At the same time, fewer children have exited and the number of adoptions involving children in state custody has fallen to a six-year low.

“It’s a trend,” said Lois Rice, executive director with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties. “In just our two counties, we had 610 CINC (child-in-need-of-care) petitions filed in 2008; in 2012 we had 975. That’s a 60 percent increase in four years, and this year’s numbers are looking like they’ll be higher than last year’s.”

Across the state, CASA offices recruit, train, and coordinate the activities of volunteers who befriend children in state custody, listen to their wants and needs, and advocate on their behalf.

Children are placed in foster care after a judge rules their safety or welfare is in jeopardy, usually due to parental abuse or neglect. They’re allowed to return to their families once a judge decides those problems have been resolved.

The average stay in foster care in Kansas is 16 months, though it’s not unusual that a child might spend several years in the system.

In Sedgwick County, the state’s most populous after Johnson County, the average number of children in out-of-home placements has increased from 950 in fiscal 2011 to 1,319 in fiscal 2013.

On June 30 across Kansas, there were 5,719 children in out-of-home foster care settings, a mix of foster homes, relatives’ homes, group homes, psychiatric facilities, and juvenile detention facilities.

That’s only the second time in the past 10 years that the number has exceeded 5,700 on the final day of the state’s fiscal year. The last time was in 2008, the onset of the Great Recession.

The actual number of children in out-of-home placements varies from month to month. The numbers posted on June 30 provide a “snapshot “of annual trends.

Concerning trend

Also on June 30, there were 975 children in foster care whose parents’ rights had been terminated and who were available for adoption. The most in at least the past four years and perhaps ever, if the memories of a former state welfare official are correct.

“I know that the definition of ‘awaiting adoption’ has changed over the years, but I don’t think we ever got where we had 975 kids in the system and available for adoption,” said Joyce Allegrucci, an assistant secretary for child and family services at the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services from 1998 through 2001. “If we ever got to 975 kids, we weren’t there for very long.”

Allegrucci said “something is wrong” when the state’s foster care system has “500 more kids than it did a year ago or 18 months ago…and it’s a trend we should all be concerned about.”

Officials at the Kansas Department for Children and Families said they were aware of the foster care situation.

“The current administration inherited a difficult economy and troubling trends when it comes to the numbers of children entering and exiting state custody,” Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an email to KHI News Service.

“We are looking at how we can integrate more preventative services with our community partners, so that families never reach the point of crisis and require state intervention,” she wrote.

The agency, she said, is committed “…to keeping families together when it is safe to do so.”

Though the total number of Kansans ages 0-19 has increased during the same period that foster care cases have gone up, the increase in foster care has outpaced the rate of population growth.

DCF officials have attributed the increase largely to the weak economy and parental drug abuse. But the numbers have not improved as the economy has and the percentage of foster care cases attributed to drug or alcohol problems has remained steady over the past few years.

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