Arizona, kicking ass? We really couldn't believe it either.
Yet that's the word from Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, who's long been an outspoken critic of Child Protective Services here. We've gotten to know Wexler in the course of reporting some pieces about CPS overreach -- and suffice to say, he's not usually the guy we turn to when we need a soundbyte about how great the current system is.
Which is why we were delighted when Wexler let us know about a program where Arizona actually leads the nation.
The program involves special "Section 8" housing vouchers for families that are under the threat of losing their children to foster care -- or families where parents have had their children taken away because they lack stable housing.
Sadly, housing really can be a barrier to keeping families together and out of the foster system. (As Wexler explains, several studies have found that "at least 30 percent of all foster children could be safely in their own homes right now, if their parents just had decent housing.") And when studies increasingly show that kids do better when they stay with their birth families -- even, surprisingly, in cases where they experience neglect and mild abuse -- keeping families together has become an important goal.
There are only 2,551 such vouchers available nationwide. Arizona, Wexler reports, has been getting 10 percent of the total. It's the most, in pure quantity, acquired by any state in the union -- and since the program caps any given state at ten percent of the value of the total pie, it's basically the most Arizona could hope to get.
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That's pretty damn impressive.
Of course, since this is New Times -- and since we're dealing with a tireless advocate like Richard Wexler -- we can't help but conclude with a call to do even better.
"The Arizona Legislature could learn from this, and take some of the money it wastes on needlessly parking children in shelters and other group homes and institutions and diverting it to a state version of this program -- which targets families on the verge of losing their children
because they can't afford housing, or for whom housing is all that stands in the way of getting those children back," Wexler suggested in an email. Sounds good to us.