It's very likely that if you see a foster child, you won't immediately recognize them as abused or neglected. They typically look like every other kid in the school or at the park! Of the 47,000 reports to the Arizona child abuse hotline in 2019, 32,829 were for neglect, 12,246 were for physical abuse, 1,644 were for sexual abuse, and 281 were for emotional abuse. From those 47,000 reports, 9,678 children entered the foster care system.*
There really isn't a "look" for parents who have their children removed from their care to become wards of the state. Think about it: they are your neighbors, your co-workers, and maybe even your friends. Unfortunately, it is a reality that many of the parents are addicted to drugs or simply unwilling to cooperate with state officials.
THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SAFETY
The Arizona Department of Child Safety (or DCS) is the state agency that investigates all allegations of child abuse. Reports come from law enforcement, schools, hospitals, and individuals who suspect an issue. (If you ever suspect a child is being harmed, contact them at 1-877-SOS-CHILD ... 877-767-2445 anytime, day or night.) Some professions are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse.
Once DCS has a report of an allegation, they assign an investigator to handle the case. Depending on the severity of the allegation, the investigation may start immediately and may include other agencies (such as law enforcement). As the investigation proceeds, the primary concern of the investigator and the department is for the safety of the child. In fact, every decision from this point forward in a case is centered on safety.
Sometimes, the allegation is unsubstantiated, meaning that there is not enough proof that it has occurred and/or that the child(ren) are in any danger. Other times, the allegation is substantiated, but there is no immediate threat to the child. This means that the child may stay with the parent and DCS will work with the family to ensure that the child remains safe. It is also possible that the allegation is evident and the child is facing an imminent threat if they remain in the home. In these cases, the child may be placed with a relative (kinship placement) or in a licensed foster home.
Within a very short period, a team meeting is held with DCS, the parents, and any interested parties - such as foster parents and family friends and supports. All options are explored to ensure that out-of-home placement is appropriate or if another option would allow the child to remain safe.
If a child remains in out-of-home care, an ongoing case worker with DCS begins working with the families to coordinate parental visits, as well as to provide services to the parents of the children so that they can work toward reunification with the children.
DCS also works with children who are legally free to be adopted if a parent's rights have been severed. The case managers identify potential adoptive families and coordinate the adoption.
The court is involved every step of the way. DCS is represented in court by the State Attorney General's office. Parents either hire or are assigned a lawyer to represent them in the case. The children also receive an attorney to look after their best interests. Some children are also assigned a guardian ad-litem to represent them in addition to their attorney.
The court reviews all cases of children in out-of-home care frequently. Case workers compile notes about the actions of the parents in complying with the agency's requests and about the welfare of the children. Additionally, there are panels of citizens that create a Foster Care Review Board that will also follow up and evaluate what is happening to make recommendations to the court. These occur every six months while a child is in the state's care.
The same court that has been following the child's case will also handle the adoption. The potential adoptive parents hire an attorney to handle their interests in the proceeding.
LICENSED FOSTER HOMES
Foster parents obtain a license from DCS by working with a licensing agency. This process involves a home study where many questions about a person's background are asked. Fingerprint clearance cards are requested to show there is no criminal history that would preclude someone from watching children. The family also provides financial statements and must show that they are able to care for additional children financially without receiving the reimbursement from the state. Foster parents also provide documents like car registrations and insurance.
Foster parents take classes over many hours covering topics like parenting, understanding the children in care, what resources are available, what the expectations of foster families may be ... and of course first aid and CPR. The foster parents then must continue to attend classes and keep their certifications current while they have a foster license.
Along the process, there is a life safety inspection by DCS of a potential foster home (which is repeated every two years thereafter) and the adults who will care for the children placed in their home must provide a doctor's statement attesting to their health as it relates to caring for a child. This includes any adults in the household such as adult children.
The average time for a family to become licensed in 2020 is more than five months.*
Most foster families include the children in their care in everything they do, from daily mealtimes to family vacations. The idea is to welcome these children into their homes and provide them with love and care as though they are and have always been part of the family.
Licensed foster homes receive a reimbursement from the State of Arizona around $20 per day. They also receive a small clothing allowance ($30+/-) and a $10 allowance to give to the child for spending money. There are diaper allowances for very young children and the reimbursement rate increases if the child is a teenager or has special needs.
Reimbursements cover all of the services that foster families provide, including shelter, clothing, school supplies, transportation to doctor's appointments, parental visits, and any other needs for the child that are "ordinary." The State of Arizona provides medical, dental, vision, and mental health care for foster children. Foster kids also receive daycare benefits if needed - although it is very common for foster parents to spend a significantly greater amount of money than the benefits offer.
JESSIE'S CLOSET FOSTER CHILD RESOURCE CENTER
Jessie's Closet (and other similar organizations around the state) provide support for foster children and the families that care for them. Think about the clothing allowance: $30 is barely enough for a pair of shoes or a nice jacket! Jessie's Closet is able to provide basic clothing (including socks and underwear) for just $1 per items/package. This allows the foster parents to stretch those dollars further.
Additionally, it has been the goal of Jessie's Closet to provide a warm, loving children's boutique to shop in that is exclusive to these special children. Helping foster children fight feelings of rejection, abandonment, and fear is part of the support provided through the center.
*(Data is from the FY20 Monthly Operational Outcomes Report for January 2020, accessed at https://dcs.az.gov/news-reports/dcs-reports)