Today at the Arizona Legislature

1401229184000-arizona-capitolThe Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB1002 to fund the new Department of Child Safety (CPS).

The Senate Health & Human Services Committee passed SB1001, with amendments from Ed Ableser (changing the purpose of DCS) and Nancy Barto (technical issues) creating the new Department of Child Safety.

In the House the Health & Human Services Committee had been the committee to work with the CPS issue. Today, Speaker of the House Andy Tobin changed the committee to Public Safety to vote on the current bill and move it out of committee. This committee has not been the committee addressing CPS during this past session. The Public Safety Committee passed HB2001 creating the new Department of Child Safety.

The House Appropriations Committee passed HB2002 to fund the new Department of Child Safety CPS).

We gave testimony in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee today. It did raise questions among committee members. It made enough of an impact that Director Flanagan approached us after the House session in order to speak with us. He has promised to read our 53 page report and respond to it.

Legislators in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee that were receptive and seemed to understand the issue from the family’s perspective were Sen. and Chairwoman Nancy Barto, Sen. Kelli Ward and Sen. Ed Ableser. The one legislator that believes CPS “saves” children is Sen. David Bradley, a former CPS employee.

While both the appropriations bill and the bill to create the new department are expected to pass tomorrow without any problems, our work is not done.

The new department is only the foundation of the new agency. There is much work to be done to get meaningful legislation before the next session in January to fix the problems within CPS that are leading to the number of children being removed from families. Many legislators understand the problem and are reaching out to us to continue working on the problem.

Director Flanagan gave an extension presentation on the new structure of CPS, policy changes, efforts to reach out to community resources, and a commitment to work on prevention so removal may not be necessary. He expressed an understanding that removal of the child from the family is not always necessary and not always in the best interest of the child. While much of it sounded good, little of it is written in the legislation making it agency policy and procedures only. With a different direct this could mean huge problems in the future. Another concern was his definition of abuse and neglect.

A good foundation was laid out today to continue our fight to improve the CPS system.

Shawnna Bolick has been extremely supportive of our efforts. We met with her for 2 hours last week to discuss CPS. Today she helped facilitate meetings for us with legislators. Shawnna is running for the House in LD28 against Kate Brophy-McGee.

Kelli Ward made sure we knew about the session today and helped us get on the floor to speak.

We want to thank the people who called or emailed their House and Senate members. Many of the legislators today expressed the concerns brought up from these conversations. They are listening.

We want to thank everyone who helped us get our voice heard.

Report finds racial disparity in Michigan’s foster care system

Michigan’s minority children are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to age out of the foster care system without being adopted or returned to their families, a new report shows.

fostercare[1]Children of color also are more likely to be removed from their families for abuse and neglect, according to the report from the Michigan Race Equity Coalition in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, to be released today.

“This gives us verifiable data that policymakers, legislators really like,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, who co-chaired the coalition effort with public policy advocate and former legislator Lynn Jondahl. “That is really what moves decision-makers faster.”

Those behind the report hope it will help improve early intervention and community-based services for families, win more funding for child abuse and neglect prevention and lead to better training for child welfare workers to help them discern the difference between poverty and neglect.

About 13,000 kids in Michigan are in foster care at any given time, according to the Department of Human Services. Using data from 2013, the coalition’s report compares the number of minority children with the number of white children in care. It found:

Read More at: Report finds racial disparity in Michigan's foster care system


A version of this column originally appeared in:

El Paso Struggles With Lack of English-Speaking Foster Homes

FosterCare_jpg_312x1000_q100[1]Nearly a quarter of the young children who came to the Child Crisis Center in El Paso in 2013 were from military families. Many ended up in the emergency shelter after state officials could not find English-speaking foster care families in the heavily Hispanic community who could effectively communicate with them.

“Repeatedly, we’re seeing placements break down, a lot in relation to the military family," said Alfonso Velarde, executive director of the Child Crisis Center of El Paso. "It’s difficult to find placement for a non-Spanish-speaking child in a foster home in El Paso."

On the heels of an expansion of Fort Bliss over the last several years, the emergency shelter in El Paso is seeing an increase in the number of children who can't be placed in foster homes because there aren't enough English-speaking families available. It's a problem that seems to be unique to the border community that is home to the burgeoning U.S. Army base, but it's one state lawmakers and policymakers hope will be considered during a redesign of foster care in Texas.

In 2013, 115 of the 496 children in the crisis center — who ranged in age from newborns to 13-year-olds and were brought to the shelter by Child Protective Services — came from active-duty military families, Velarde said.

The trouble, he said, stems from the demographic disparity between the population in the city and on the base. U.S. census data shows that 81 percent of the El Paso population is Hispanic. The Fort Bliss population is only 18 percent Hispanic, and white residents account for 61 percent of the base's population.

There are currently 617 foster homes in El Paso County and 307 children placed in those homes, according to the Department of Family and Protective Services. Despite the large margin of available homes, many children still land in the emergency shelter because there aren't enough English-speaking foster families.

The number of children from military families being placed at the crisis center began increasing two and half years ago, but the number of English-speaking foster families in the area has not kept pace with the non-Hispanic population growth at Fort Bliss, Velarde said.

Fort Bliss has grown explosively in recent years as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process that tripled its population as it transitioned from an air-defense center to an armor center. The expansion brought an additional 20,000 soldiers and 27,000 family members to El Paso, including 9,600 school-age children, according to the American Forces Press Service.

CPS Director of Placement Gail Gonzalez said instances in which language barriers complicate the placement of children with foster families are very rare and that CPS continuously works to meet the cultural and ethnic needs of children in foster care and to recruit the appropriate service providers, particularly in areas with “unique qualities” like El Paso.

“It’s one of those things that develops over time as your population grows or your population changes [and] then you start seeing something emerge,” Gonzalez said. “It takes a little while before the data … catches up.”

CPS does not track cases in which children are unable to be placed with a foster family because of a language barrier. But Gonzalez said that CPS has not experienced a “similar strain” in San Antonio, which houses the Army's Fort Sam Houston and also has a large Hispanic population. Other Texas bases, she said, have not seen the same dramatic expansion as Fort Bliss.

The increase in foster children from military families is seemingly unique to the emergency shelter in El Paso because of the younger children the center takes in and because of the differences in population on and off the base.

Sandy Rioux, executive director of the El Paso Center for Children, said his center, which serves as an emergency shelter for older children, between ages 10 and 18, is not seeing the same challenge in finding homes for children from military families.

Velarde said the uptick in younger children from military families at his center is largely the result of an increase in younger soldiers and families coming to El Paso as Fort Bliss became a leading training and deployment center for the U.S. Army.

Concerns about the availability of foster care in El Paso come as the state is gearing up for wider implementation of “foster care redesign,” which includes increasing partnerships with private contractors, to streamline the foster care placement process and keep children closer to home when they’re placed with a foster care family. 

The placement issue in El Paso came up during a House Health and Human Services Committee hearing last week to assess the implementation of foster care redesign after state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, asked Velarde to testify.

This week, Gonzalez said Velarde’s testimony was a “very basic step to alert the committee on what the challenges are going to be” when implementing foster care redesign in El Paso, where placement capabilities are already strained by the varied English proficiency levels among potential foster families in a majority-minority city with a growing military population.

“For a child that may be coming in with Fort Bliss and this may be their first experience in a border community, those type of families may not feel well-equipped to deal with a child whose whole life has only spoken English,” Gonzalez said.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Colorado foster children need more than medications

There's little doubt that many children who come to Colorado's foster care system have lived through horrors that few of us can imagine and behave in ways that are hard to handle.

But that's no excuse for pumping so many of them full of psychotropic drugs instead of dealing with their problems.

A series of stories in The Denver Post last week detailed how more than a quarter of Colorado's 16,800 foster children were prescribed such drugs in 2012.

The prescribing of these drugs to foster kids is occurring at a troubling rate. Colorado foster children are given antipsychotics at a rate 12 times that of other kids on Medicaid.

The stories, by Post reporters Jennifer Brown and Christopher N. Osher, also described how Colorado lags other states in establishing policies to cut down on the use of psychotropic drugs by foster children.

The state needs to get a handle on this situation. That starts with actually tracking which foster kids get these drugs and how much.

Colorado is among a minority of states that doesn't compile such metrics.

A task force has been established in Colorado to talk about ways to track prescription practices when it comes to foster kids, but such a policy is not yet up and running.