The number of children in foster care has increased by 33 percent in Pima County in the last year, leaving a "woefully and sadly inadequate" network to take care of them.
That's Chris Swenson-Smith's description, and as director of Pima County Juvenile Court's Child and Family Services she's put out a plea for more adults to foster youngsters.
We can only echo Swenson-Smith's call in the Saturday Star for potential foster parents to come forward to help. As Swenson-Smith told the Star's Veronica Cruz:
"These are not somebody else's kids. These are everybody's kids. As a community, I really believe ... every adult is responsible for all children because that is what our community is built on, are these kids. ... These kids are going to be our community members, our adults, and they're going to be parenting kids, they're going to be working."
More than 4,000 children are currently in foster care in the county, up from about 3,000 in May 2012. Swenson-Smith gives a good visual image to put that number in prospective: That's 60 busloads of children who have been abused and neglected needing a safe, secure environment.
What's causing this number to increase by one-third?
"No one can ever say for sure what's happening when you have an increase like that," she said in a recent interview on "AZ Illustrated Metro" on PBS 6. "But you do have a really, really bad drug and alcohol problem in Pima County, and about 70 percent of dependency cases are related to substance abuse."
More than 1,500 children in foster care are living with relatives or someone they know. Another 1,000 are in foster homes, which number 777 in Pima County. Still, another 560 or so are in group homes or shelters.
The situation is so dire that children are also sent to other counties, making their distress worse.
During Swenson-Smith's interview on "AZ Illustrated," we asked what the obstacles were in recruiting foster parents.
"The biggest barrier is that people have a misconception of what these kids are like. You find that once a child feels safe, everything - their behavior, their school performance, their mental health - improves. Most are small and about half are 5 and under."
In addition to becoming foster parents, community members can become a court appointed special advocate, or CASA. These volunteers commit for the "life of one case" to see a child frequently, go into court and let the judge know what's going on in the child's life.
Log on to fosterandadoptivecounciloftucson.org to see how you can help. You'll easily find the dazzling faces of kids missing their baby teeth, battling a little teenage acne, smiling with a sibling. They are waiting for "forever" homes - for someone to adopt them. They represent all the beautiful children who deserve our community's love and support whether they are in need of foster care or ready for a permanent home.
Arizona Daily Star
Find out more
For more information visit: fosterandadoptivecounciloftucson.org or call the Department of Economic Security's Foster Care Line at 1-877-KIDS-NEED-U (1-877-543-7633)
More info on CASA is available at: www.pimacountycasa.org