In response to New Times' story detailing the Arizona Department of Child Safety's plan to close its emergency placement center in Phoenix — and allow children who can't immediately be placed in foster care to sleep in DCS offices — DCS spokesman Doug Nick wrote the following letter to the editor:
A recent story about a successful DCS project to house and more rapidly place children removed from unsafe home situations may have left some readers with the impression that providing a safe and loving home through foster care is not good practice.
There are thousands of loving, dedicated foster parents in Arizona who provide a safe environment for children who could not live in a home environment that endangered their lives or well-being. For anyone in the child welfare community to suggest that foster care is not a far better alternative than an unsafe home is perplexing, to say the least.
I personally know a number of foster parents. They love what they do, love the children in their care, and provide a home that is a badly-needed respite for children who may have been beaten, burned, exposed to drugs and violence, and seen horrors no child should ever experience.
Some of these parents have adopted foster children, which is one of the best outcomes of all.
There were also comments claiming DCS needs to do more to provide preventative services. We are.
As just one example, we established a community partnership with service providers through Building Resilient Families beginning in 2015. This is for children and families reported to the DCS where the findings do not warrant further DCS intervention, the children have been found to be safe and the case is approved for closure.
Services include a needs assessment, family support and assistance, parent aide services, parenting training and engaging families in community services and support systems by making effective referrals.
To date, there have been as many as 174 referrals a month.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t entirely eliminate the need to intervene in a home where a child isn’t safe.
At DCS, our efforts to place removed children more rapidly have been improving, and the short-term project that ends in February has yielded great results. Those results include more than doubling the staff dedicated to the sole purpose of finding emergency placements either in foster homes, with other family members, or a community-based emergency shelter. They now do this on a 24 /7 basis as opposed to one shift previously dedicated to this task.
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Also, we are increasing our licensing staff to identify more community-based emergency shelters and map the available bed space at any given time. Finding a placement is no small task. It needs to be an appropriate home that can handle a child based on age, gender, and potential special needs. If it takes some time to achieve that placement, there is DCS space prepared to ensure a child has food, shelter, and a bed so he or she can rest. It’s a far better alternative than a child remaining in an unsafe living environment.
Department of Child Safety
Have something to say? Please send letters to the editor to Rick.Barrs@newtimes.com.