The Trouble with Arizona’s Child-Welfare System

What is being done to address the problems of the child-welfare system in Arizona?

Arizona’s child-welfare system has been plagued by longstanding problems centered on placing children in safe and permanent homes. The Department of Child Safety (DCS) was created two years ago to provide prevention, intervention and treatment services to support child safety. Now, the problems remain: there are more children under the state’s care, many of whom have been trapped in the system for more than two years and are increasingly being placed in group homes.

Some experts argue that more money should be put into programs that provide services to families and are aimed at preventing children from being placed into foster care. These preventive services include parenting classes, domestic violence training, and substance abuse counseling. When the DCS was created, lawmakers provided $4 million in funds for these services, which were either not sufficient or were not utilized effectively.

Case Backlog at Arizona DCS

A key problem facing the child welfare system is the alarming backlog of abuse and neglect cases due to a lack of adequate staffing.   Some observers believe that outside contractors are needed to cut the backlog and free up caseworkers to handle incoming cases. In addition, the DCS has an exceedingly high turnover rate. The rate of voluntary departures and firings is 24.5 percent overall and more than 35 percent for caseworkers. The key reasons for turnover are low pay and poor working conditions.

Ultimately, the high rate of attrition prevents cases from being handled with an appropriate standard of care. These shortcomings might explain why the state has been hit with a lawsuit alleging neglect of children in foster care. The case has been filed on behalf of 10 children in the systems who have faced a shortage of foster homes and have been separated from their siblings.

Access to Behavioral Health Services

Arizona’s child welfare system is also suffering from inadequate access to behavioral heath services for children in foster care. These children typically face trauma from being separated from their parents. A bill working its way through the Arizona legislature will provide foster parents with better access to mental health services.

Given the problems in the child welfare system and the shortage of available foster homes, another alternative is adoption, particularly in situations where the legal rights of a parent may have been terminated. With this in mind, if you have questions about adopting a child, you should consult with a qualified family law attorney.