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CPS focus turns to children in shelters

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DES officials, attorneys from Calif. center to meet

7 comments by Mary K. Reinhart – Oct. 20, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic


Top officials from Arizona’s child-welfare agency will meet with California child-advocacy attorneys about how to reduce the number of babies and young children living in crisis shelters and group homes.

Pressure from the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center helped to nearly empty Arizona shelters five years ago and place more children with foster families. Then, as now, the state’s overloaded child-welfare system was undergoing public scrutiny following highly publicized child injuries and deaths.

Attorney Carole Shauffer, the center’s executive director, said there’s now an even greater body of research showing the damage group care can do to small children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.
“We know even more about how bad this is for young children,” Shauffer said.

In a letter last month to state Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, who oversees Child Protective Services, Shauffer said the center and the Annie E. Casey Foundation had used Arizona as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to reduce the number of foster children in group care.

But the influx of children into state custody in recent months and a net loss of hundreds of foster homes forced Arizona to ask shelter and group-home operators to begin caring for CPS children for the first time in years.

Shauffer said that trend needs to stop or the state could face litigation, as it did in 2006, based on state law and constitutional due-process rights.

“They’ve got a flood of kids,” Shauffer said. “They’ve got a mess.”

Decades of research shows that young children fare better with relatives or in family foster homes than in institutional settings, in part because of their need to establish a lasting relationship with one significant grown-up. Group care also is more expensive than family foster care.

State rules limit shelter placements to 21 days, with weekly reviews by a Juvenile Court judge required thereafter.

DES officials have agreed to meet with Shauffer on Dec. 6. They declined to be interviewed but in a written statement said, “We are committed to ensuring the best care possible for children who are in Arizona’s child-welfare system. We have had an ongoing working relationship with the Youth Law Center and will continue to work with them to achieve this mutual goal.”

Lawmakers also want to learn more about how children are doing in group care.

A joint legislative committee meets today to discuss three state audits on CPS, including recommendations to more quickly investigate reports of abuse and neglect in shelters, group homes and residential treatment centers.

As of Aug. 31, the latest figures DES provided, among the nearly 1,500 children in group settings, there were 23 babies and children younger than 4 living in shelters and 10 children younger than 7 in group homes.

That compares with March, when 16 children younger than 4 years were in shelter care, and group homes housed two children younger than 7.

Marsha Porter, who runs the 15-bed Crisis Nursery in Phoenix, said most of the young children she’s cared for in recent months are part of sibling groups. She said a few days in a shelter, particularly to keep siblings together and assess their well-being, is fine for children.

Porter and Chris Scarpati, founder and CEO of the East Valley Child Crisis Center, said they’re also getting CPS children so traumatized that their first foster families couldn’t handle them.

Porter said she’s turning away 20 to 30 requests for CPS placements every month.

Shauffer’s company has worked around the country to eliminate group care for children younger than 3 and has successfully sued to close shelters in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

In 2006, Maricopa County shelters were housing nearly 100 babies and young children, following a 60 percent increase in the number of foster children since 2002.

But with financial and technical help from the Casey Foundation, and pressure from the law center, state officials brought those numbers to near zero.

Reach the reporter at maryk

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Written by dawneworswick

October 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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