“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — Charles Dickens
Our thanks to the team at the Arizona Daily Star, and the over 100 people they interviewed throughout six states, for presenting the investigative report“Fixing our foster care crisis.” This report was made possible with the support of the Jeffrey Guylas Charitable Fund at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona. Jeff was a foster child that lived his life with mental scars from that period. He was fortunate to find a loving family, but always remained committed during his lifetime to helping others in need.
When the Welfare Reform Act — aka the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 — passed, our government made a promise to our low-income families: If you work, we will help provide for childcare assistance and needed cash to be able to raise a family.
In 2009 Arizona broke this promise, cutting childcare subsidies by $96.6 million and cash assistance by $97 million.
As a direct result of the budget cuts our state has enacted since 2009, we have arrived at the current foster care crisis.
Nobody chooses their birth family, and nobody chooses to be poor. Each day, these families face difficult choices: Should I get medical or dental care for my child, or purchase the educational materials they need for school? Can I afford to lease a car to get to work, or pay for the diapers and childcare? Take a moment to think of yourself and your family facing this trade-off every day.
As the report illustrates, the stress caused by poverty has contributed to a 52 percent increase in the number of foster care placements since 2008.
In their 1997 report, “The Future of Children,”Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Greg J. Duncan concluded that underprivileged children are six to eight times more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect.
In accordance with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child research, the effect of living under this constant stress can impair a child’s capacities for learning and relating to others.
The costs also affect our state in lost earnings and public service support.
As Gov. Doug Ducey noted in his March 18 op-ed, “over the past few years the state has made substantive changes to the Department of Child Safety that have resulted in the number of children in foster care decreasing by 20 percent and the backlog of open cases exceeding the 60-day closure deadline, known as inactive cases, reduced from 16,000 to 178.”
We were honored to work with the governor and the legislature to bring the award winning FosterEd program statewide in 2017 to ensure that every foster child has an educational champion.
The state and the governor should be commended for these improvements, but in his words, “we still have more work to do.”
We agree with reporters Patty Machelor and Perla Trevizo that Arizona cannot address the foster care crisis without investments in prevention.
We should invest in programs that make an impact, not cut them.
For example, Healthy Families Arizona, despite a 96 percent success rate, has seen its budget cut by 75 percent.
We should learn from other states such as Washington, which has consolidated three departments to better coordinate care.
We should address, as Susie Hahn, the executive director of Casa de los Niños so aptly described, our “fragmented systems that all have different mandates and goals.”
We should learn from the Magnolia Community Initiative in Los Angeles to co-locate services to make it easier for families to access and coordinate them. Every day in this state, there is a child who would not be in the system if Arizona had lived up to its promise.
Every day, there are families seeking the resources to better the lives of their children only to be told that the service is no longer offered.
The foster care crisis is one of our own making .
Thanks to the great work of the Star team, we know the path forward.
To honor Jeff’s memory and live up to the promise we made to the children and families of Arizona, we must work together across sectors to learn, invest and act in these strategies.