10 Point Foster Care Reform Plan
Foster Children's Rights Coalition
by Dawn Teo
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm sharing this 10 Point Foster Care Reform Plan on behalf of one of our newest NAASCA family members, Dawn Teo from Arizona. Please check out the web site, too, at FosteringRights.org
and sign their petition. We plan to have Dawn as a "special guest" on an upcoming "Stop Child Abuse Now" talk radio show.
From the Foster Children's Rights Coalition web site: Read our 10-Point Reform Plan and the 120 pages of research supporting this proposal, which includes more than 350 specific recommendations for reform. You can help make foster care safer and more nurturing. Learn what you can do to stand up for the rights of children in foster care.
Arizona children cannot wait while childhood passes them by. Donate to give foster children a stronger foundation and start to the rest of their lives.
Learn the issues -- Support real reform
Individual judgement routinely replaces processes
Recent studies of the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) found that overwhelming overcapacity has cultivated an environment where "individual judgment routinely replaces standardized process." Overcapacity, grave deficiencies in training, and a preposterous lack of accountability resulted in:
children and families not receiving needed (legally mandated) services.
too many children languishing in care or re-entering foster care.
too many children remaining in or returning to dangerous environments.
Accountability is affordable
Some solutions may require budgeting changes, but most recommendations only require more flexible use of current foster care funding. Our Coalition offers solutions regarding the development and improvement of current procedures coupled with increased accountability for Arizona foster care.
"Under new management" is not enough
The Director and Deputy Director of Arizona Child Safety have been replaced twice in the last year. However, accountability must be created at every level, from front line workers to the very top. Reform must also be made across every state agency that is responsible for the care of foster children, especially the Department of Health Services, the Department of Behavioral Health Services, and the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners.
Until transparency is established, accountability will continue to be only make believe.
To create accountability for state agency staff, personnel reform must be passed by the legislature so that DCS and other state agencies who serve foster children can establish internal accountability.
We cannot wait for another tragedy or crisis
Historically, accountability for child safety in Arizona has only been addressed during times of public outrage, and the focus has been almost exclusively on Arizona's child safety agency. Few have taken a comprehensive look at the entire system of state agencies and contracted service providers responsible for meeting the needs of Arizona's foster children.
All three branches of government, multiple state agencies, and contracted service providers continue to fail Arizona foster children, and reforms must be made across all three today.
Support Our 10-Point Foster Care Reform Plan
Recognizing that we must band together to create change, Foster Children's Rights Coalition gathered professionals who work with foster children every day: mental health providers, lawyers, foster parents, social workers, CASAs, and other child advocates to develop a comprehensive plan for transforming foster care in Arizona, which is outlined in this 10-point reform plan and supported by more than 120 pages of documentation and specific recommendations.
We appreciate the need to avoid tax increases. Several of our major recommendations will reduce foster care expenses. Often, providing children in foster care with the necessary services has proven to create direct, immediate savings in cost, usually by keeping kids out of expensive institutions, making the system more efficient, and moving children out of foster care faster.
1. Establish compliance with federal and state laws.
Provide enhanced legal training to judges, lawyers, and DCS staff to establish the legal framework for casework and hearings. Hold these professionals accountable for following appropriate legal and policy processes.
2. Create transparency and accountability.
Establish standards for transparency and accountability at both organizational and staff levels for the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) and for every provider responsible for meeting the needs of children in Arizona foster care, including the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS), mental health service providers, licensing agencies, and other professionals. Individual judgment must no longer replace standardized procedures, and professionals must be held accountable for unethical behavior, illegal actions, and failure to follow appropriate procedures.
3. Ensure "aging out" foster youth have opportunities to succeed.
Placement of older children into family settings must become a higher priority. DCS must ensure each teen in foster care is learning appropriate life skills, has appropriate educational opportunities, and develops permanent emotional connections with trusted adults. Too often, services for teens, including life skills training, are inconsistent.
4. Reduce institutionalized care.
Children need families. Implement policy and procedures to perform exhaustive searches for family and to build a long-term support network for each child that will last into adulthood.. Provide necessary physical, mental, and mental health services for each child to be successful in a family setting instead of lingering for years in institutions.
5. Get children into safe, stable families more quickly.
When reunification services are delayed for months, including parental visits and sibling visits, children stay in foster care for months or years longer than necessary. A child should not feel disconnected and alone or as if life is in limbo. DCS, child attorneys, judges, and advocates must refocus so that children and families receive necessary services to allow children to move through care quickly, heal from trauma and neglect, and either reunify with family or find a permanent, loving home through adoption or guardianship.
6. Appropriately assess and disclose potential risks.
Ensure known risks such as safety issues, mental health challenges, trauma history, mental health diagnoses, and special needs are disclosed to potential foster, kinship, and adoptive parents. Caseworkers and supervisors must be held accountable when known risks and special needs are not disclosed before placing a child into a family.
7. Overhaul mental health care.
Improve the quality and availability of mental health services for foster children. The legislature and Board of Behavioral Health Examiners (AZBBHE) must ensure that only licensed, qualified therapists provide therapy and limit paraprofessionals to ancillary services. DCS and DHS must work together to ensure that mental health providers are rendering the services they are contracted to provide and which are necessary for foster children to both live successfully in family settings and to transition into healthy, productive adults.
8. Establish educational advocacy.
DCS employs only two educational advocates for 16,990 children. DCS must develop multi-disciplinary training and ongoing collaboration with the Arizona Department of Education and school districts. Legislative action should be taken to increase accessibility of charter schools and Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to children in foster care. Children in foster care must have the same educational opportunities as other children, rather than moving from school to school with each new placement.
9. Strengthen collaboration, communication, and training with stakeholders.
Strengthen communication and collaboration between state agencies, law enforcement, service providers, educational institutions, and foster parents. Increase co-location opportunities with schools, social services providers, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders. DCS should also utilize waivers for more flexible use of federal funding.
10. Establish a multidisciplinary quality assurance team.
Governor Doug Ducey should appoint professionals and child advocates from fields of foster care expertise to a quality assurance team which will provide long-term accountability and oversight for the entire system of agencies, service providers, and professionals who care for children in Arizona foster care. Throughout each year, the team should conduct reviews of statewide systems and providers, reporting back with assessments, policy recommendations, oversight, and direction. At the end of each year, the team should publish a public report assessing the strengths and needs of the entire array of agencies and providers.