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Chat with child welfare experts about the foster care system

Local child welfare experts Eric Schindler, president and CEO of Child and Family Resources; Joanne Karolzak, director of children and family services for Casa de los Ninos; and Chris Swenson-Smith, director of children and family services for the Pima County Juvenile Court, will answer your questions about the foster care system in Arizona as a follow up to the Star's series. The chat begins at noon Friday.

  • This chat will begin at noon Friday, Dec. 13.
  • Welcome to our live chat with child welfare experts. If you read our foster care series earlier this week, it must have brought up some questions for you. Ask them now.

    To avoid confusion, each question will be held in moderation until just before one of our experts answers it. So don't worry that we didn't receive your question.

    See the series here.
  • I am Dr. Eric Schindler from Child and Family Resources, a community organization that works to help families succeed and promote healthy child development and making sure children are ready to excel in school.
  • Joanne Karolzak - I am the Director of Child and Family Services at Casa de los Niños, a local behavioral health and family support agency.
  • I'm Chris Swenson-Smith. I'm the Division Director for Children & Family Services at Pima County Juvenile Court, the division that oversees dependency cases (child abuse and neglect). I've worked in the child welfare field for nearly 20 years, including 6 years at Child Protective Services. I'm encouraged by our community's interest in our children.
  • I'm Emily Bregel, one of the Arizona Daily Star reporters who worked on the foster care series. We're looking forward to hearing your questions.
  • Here is a comment from the Star's Facebook page on one of the stories in the series:
    Instead of foster care how about the State building a system on the order of Father Flanagans Boy's/Girls's Town in Omaha? Many great people came out of that system to have very successful lives. How much of the money foster homes receive goes to the welfare of the children, and is not just an income to the foster homes?
  • rene asks a great question regarding putting children into loving orphanages such as the Boy's Town/Girl's Town instead of foster care. It sounds like a great idea, but in fact research generally shows that most abused and neglected children do better in a family versus a big group setting. It is also much more cost effective to use loving well trained foster parents that housing children in big orphanages, even when they are wonderfully caring places
  • What do licensing agencies look for in potential foster families? What should foster families be prepared for?
  • Licensing agencies are always on the lookout for families who are willing to open their doors and play that vital parent role while biological families are working towards being able to reunify with their children. Foster parents provide a stable, loving home to children who have experienced trauma. They support the child's biological family to help them heal and grow. Foster parents work in partnership with other professionals to meet the child's unique needs. Fosters also have to be able to patiently address the child's medical, behavioral and emotional needs. All foster parents are trained prior to placement and continue to attend regular training to maintain the skills relevant to foster care.
  • What are some top ways people can help foster kids, other than becoming foster parents?
  • Before you rule out becoming a foster parent, learn more about it. It may be easier to do than you think. You may also consider becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA. CASAs are volunteers who are specially trained to advocate for children in the court dependency system. Each volunteer spends time with one child or sibling group, meets all of the social workers, service providers, foster providers, teachers and lawyers in the child's life, and then makes recommendations to the judge for the child's best interest. This is truly a way to bring the wisdom of the community into the courtroom. You can call 740-2060 to find out how to become a CASA, or go to pimacountycasa.org. You can also become a volunteer board member for the Foster Care Review Board or volunteer for a community agency. It really does take a village to raise a child. You can become part of any child's village by just supporting them and their parents.
  • Why are more kids being put in foster care here when the opposite is happening everywhere else?
  • There are at least three good reasons that more kids are in foster care in Arizona: 1. we don't invest in prevention programs that work with families to keep them together when that could be a good option. Sometimes counseling and parent training works far better than removing a child. 2. When parents can't afford child care and still need to work, they become more likely sometimes to leave children in unsafe situations because they have to get to their jobs and that can lead to neglect, and 3, we don't invest the same amount of money in providing many resources to families at risk that leads to later abuse in some situations.
  • We have questions from the same few people. Others must have questions.
  • Comment from one of the stories in the series: "Be prepared to have your heart broken, though. My friend, a wonderful foster father who's had "his" foster son since infancy, is going to be forced to give him up to the biological mother who is pregnant again, has her 15-yr-old pregnant daughter living with her, has no job, no car, but hey, she's tested negative for drugs for a change, so she gets to have her son back. How is this better for the child?"
  • My heart breaks for this foster father. Yes, you must prepare for this type of situation to occur. All dependency cases start with a case plan goal of family reunification. There is so much science that tells us that children's long-term success is better if they can be returned home, and it's really hard to NOT compare a current, stable, loving foster home in a nice area to a parent's home, and not feel it would be better for the child to stay in the foster home. But if a parent can demonstrate that they have mitigated the situation that brought his or her child into care, and the court determines that the child will be safe, they are returned home. Remember, if children never get to go back to their birthparents, their hearts are broken. I used to tell children, "It's the grownups' job to do the hard things." The best way to mitigate this is to implement evidence-based in-home services so that children go home much earlier than they do now. This will be better for everyone, and far more cost-effective.
  • Isn't it hard for foster parents to have to say goodbye to so many kids they've come to love, especially if they're going back to a not-so-great situation? How do you help potential foster parents deal with that fear?
  • Of course it is difficult to say goodbye as a foster parent. If you were not feeling those pangs of attachment, you were not completely fulfilling the role of a foster parent. Part of dealing with the experience comes from training. Going into the process, foster parents know that fostering is a substitute family for each child. Each of us wants what is the very best outcome for children placed into a foster home, sometimes that means being freed for adoption, sometimes it means being returned home or placed with other family. Foster Parents have, and show, enormous strength and care for the children placed with them by knowing they are providing what is best for the child at that moment. It never makes it easy, but those called to foster have an inordinate ability to love and let go.
  • What do you say to people who say they were spanked as children and they grew up to be respectful adults? Many of the comments on the Star's story about spanking leading to abuse fell along those lines.
  • Children raised in families who practice positive parenting and refrain from physical punishment overall tend to be less likely to be aggressive and have less behavior problems in general. But children are resilient and being raised in a more authoritarian home does not automatically mean the child will not do well. But we could just as easily ask about children raised in extreme poverty or who have had chronic illnesses who nevertheless overcome these negative experiences and do well.
  • about how many children are in the foster system and about how long does the average child stay in foster care?
  • There are about 4100 dependent children in Pima County. About 75% of those are in out-of-home care: foster homes, group homes, shelters, kin placements. The law requires that a child who has been removed from his or her home have a "Permanency Hearing" within one year of removal (or within six months of removal if the child is under three years old). The average time for a dependency case to be open in court is just under two years. About half of these cases end with the children returning home, and currently these are the cases that seem to be staying open longer.
  • Is it better for kids to be removed from a home where they're being neglected or to stay in the home with intensive in-home support for the family?
  • The answer depends on the interest and ability of the family to make changes. Should a family be able to participate in supportive in-home services which help the family make strides toward changing the situation of neglect, then keeping children at home is a definite option. If on the other hand child safety cannot be assured and/or the family has no interest in making the changes necessary, removing a child from the home may be the plan that needs to be followed. In either scenario, child safety is the priority, but supportive services being put into place and the family's desire to make changes are paramount.
  • What is changing to better help our children in foster care?
  • We have learned so much in recent years about the lifelong effects of childhood trauma. Patty Machelor did a great job writing about this in her article in December 10's Arizona Daily Star. What we're also learning is that we can mitigate these effects by helping increase a child's resiliency, and many of the ways to do this are simple. For example, just having one reliable and loving adult in a child's life can make a huge difference. It is also vital that children are screened for trauma and get trauma-focused therapy. There are a number of therapeutic approaches that are short-term and effective. Children who are involved in their communities and feel successful at school also seem to do better dealing with their trauma histories.
  • Why do you think Arizona is such an outlier in terms of the increase in children in foster care?
  • Is more funding and more CPS caseworkers the only solution to an overwhelmed CPS system? Won't more caseworkers just mean more children in custody?
  • Adding more funding into the CPS system, even with all its flaws would still be very helpful. Caseworkers and investigators are required to have caseloads that are so large that they can't be done successfully. We need to hire more staff, at least for the short term. But, given the entire range of challenges facing Arizona's families, unless we work to "close the front door" and put in place programs that make it less likely that parents will end up abusing or neglecting their children, we will never turn the tide. Other states invest in these programs, and also provide child care subsidies for working poor parents so they can leave their children in safe educational circumstances while they go to work. When this option is taken away, parents can become desperateby you
  • What about our lifestyle? for foster consiteration. Non Christian, gun loving people who like a drink now and then.
  • When looking at the homes of potential foster parents, every licensing agency is looking for the elements that fulfill ARS Article 58 which are the laws that cover foster home licensure. The law does not require any family to be of any particular religious persuasion. Guns in the home are allowed, but have to be have to be secured as required in the statute, using gun safes, trigger locks, etc. Responsible drinking by adults is also allowed, however consideration needs to be paid about how, where and when a foster parent may drink so that all children are kept safe and secure.
  • What, if any, pathways are in place in Pima Cty. for foster kids transitioning out of the child welfare system when they turn 18?
  • Children who are 16 or above can get services through the Arizona Young Adult Program until they are 21. There's a great agency called In My Shoes that matches former foster youth with current children in foster care to be mentors: inmyshoesinc.org. There's an organization that provides a therapist for life for current and former foster youth called A Home Within: ahomewithin.org
  • I'm a foster parent and I know that everyone is overwhelmed and underpaid. I also know that if our daughter weren't in a safe home getting really excellent care, no one would be the wiser. CPS has never been to do a home visit in six months. Granted, a lot of other agencies are involved in this case, but it's still shocking to see how big the cracks are to slip through.
  • GMA, I wish that there was a great answer to the situation you are talking about. CPS is overwhelmed and some new ideas and strategies need to be put into place. Certainly more staff would be a start, but we ultimately have to address the root causes that lead to children needing to be removed. I hope that things will start to change in coming months.
  • How do I become a foster parent?
  • Who do I talk to about the full details for foster parenting? Is there a prescreening process? like to get an idea of whats needed. Hate to waste everyone time and find out some past event eliminates me.
  • The first step to licensing is to select your licensing agency. Casa de los Niños holds monthly orientation meetings for those adults who may have an interest on the 3rd Saturday of each month. Our next orientation is on January 18th, 1-2pm at our foster care offices located at 40 N. Swan. At that orientation, interested families of all differing varieties have an opportunity to ask questions and are walked down the path for licensure. Obviously, there is substantial training involved, the completion of a home study, home inspections, etc. The process usually takes multiple months, but the time is worth the effort. We want each family to receive full preparation for the amazing and challenging task of fostering. If you have specific questions you'd like answered, feel free to contact us at 520-326-8250
  • How many foster kids are removed due to neglect rather than abuse and does that make it easier for them to reunited with their parents?
  • Far more children are reported to CPS for neglect versus abuse overall, and in fact the number of reported potential abuse cases has increased less rapidly than the number of neglect cases. The difficult decision about whether to remove a child from their home hinges on many factors having to do with the overall severity of the situation, the risks to the child and likelihood that the child can be kept safe if left in the home once the parents agree to participate in intensive counseling and other programs to hopefully change the circumstances that led to the CPS involvement. So, you can imagine both neglect and abuse cases where the child needs to be removed. However, in many other neglect situations, it is easier for the family to make the changes needed to stay together, especially if it is poverty and stress that led to the neglect and somehow additional resources and support can be provided
  • Why are birth parents given so many chances? If they truly wanted their children back why not make them responsible from the beginning?
  • Erin - birthparents used to be given a lot more time to improve the circumstances that resulted in their children's removal. This resulted in a lot of "foster care drift:" children spent much of their lives sometimes, going from foster home to foster home. A federal law was enacted in 1997 that requires that a permanent plan for every child be ordered in court within 12 months of a child's removal. While this has really helped mitigate foster care drift, it makes it really difficult for parents struggling with drug or alcohol addiction to demonstrate stability. In Pima County, about 70% of dependency cases are related to parental drug and alcohol abuse. Fewer than 50% of parents are able to access treatment, enroll in it, complete it and stay clean and sober in less than a year. If a parent has made significant progress at the 12-month mark, it is often best to give them a bit more time. Everyone who works with these cases is constantly trying to ensure two things for each child: having their mother or father returned to them, and helping them feel a sense of safety and permanence. We hear it said often that these parents have chosen drugs over their children. When someone is addicted to a drug, the addiction kind of makes the choices for them.
  • Hi, I am my the grandmother/kinship provider for my 4mo old grandson born drug addicted (heroin) I just wanted to thank CPS, Casa de Los Ninos (his first home), Blake Foundation for their dedication in helping my grandson meet his needs. In our case, everyone with have worked with has been exceptional. Even a CPS worker we have never met, delivered her personal crib and purchased a special crib mattress for my grandson from her own funds...
  • Thank you for your kind comments Tamela. I am happy to hear your experiences have been positive. I honestly believe every part of the system tries their very best, but many systems are overburdened and under funded which leads to errors, misjudgements and poor outcomes. I am so very glad to hear that you and your grandson are thriving.
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