Good Sign: Aid for CPS OK’d

EDITORIAL Child-welfare legislation
The Republic |

The fast-track approval of an emergency mea­sure to hire Child Pro­tective Services workers speaks to the humanity of all those who helped make it happen.

It shows Arizona’s best side.

This $4.4 million appropria­tion addresses some of the acute needs of Arizona’s child­welfare system, providing money to hire 50 new work­ers. Fixing the chronic prob­lems of a system that has long been in crisis will take sus­tained efforts.

Gov. Jan Brewer knows this and shows the gumption to do something about it.

Brewer’s budget calls for additional funding to hire 150 more caseworkers for the understaffed agency. Her $82 million request for child welfare also includes money to help increase the number of foster families, pay for emergency and residential placement of chil­dren, deal with increased caseloads and provide for more attorneys to deal with child-welfare issues at the Attorney General’s Office. The request includes money for the current and next fiscal year.

These are carefully thought-out requests to deal with recognized needs at an agency shouldering a 40 per­cent increase in the number of children in foster care since 2009. Brewer’s requests should be seen as a bare mini­mum by lawmakers.

Child advocates have likened the governor’s request to treading water. They make important points.

Since 2008, Arizona has cut more than $300 million from programs meant to help par­ents before child abuse or neglect happens. The growth in Arizona’s foster-care pop­ulation is the highest in the nation. Prevention services can help children safely re­main in their homes; these are not frills.

Arizona has a lot of catch­ing up to do.

But political realities will make it tough for Brewer to win all the child-welfare fund­ing she wants.

Lawmakers need to re­member that the lives and futures of precious children hang in the balance. Arizona has an unmet obligation to fund a child-welfare agency up to the challenges.

But while Brewer’s funding requests are well-considered, other legislative efforts are not. Several would decrease protections for foster chil­dren.

House Bill 2074 would ex­pedite licensing for foster parents who are married, have high incomes and good credit scores. It would elim­inate important background checks, endangering children and costing the state tens of millions in federal aid. Fresh­man GOP Rep. Warren Pe­tersen says he may add some amendments to address con­cerns.

He’d be better off abandon­ing this dumb idea, based on the unfounded premise that abuse happens only in low­income families.

Senate Bill 1108 and House Bill 2348 would waive the state requirement that foster parents fully vaccinate their own children before being licensed to care for foster children. A vaccination re­quirement is common sense. Some neglected children were never vaccinated, making them particularly vulnerable. Infants who are too young to be vaccinated would be at highest risk.

Yes, there is a shortage of foster homes, but putting children in danger is no solu­tion.

These bills no doubt reflect a desire to help an agency in crisis, but good intentions are not enough. Lawmakers who want to help abused and ne­glected children should put their energy into helping Brewer win increased fund­ing for Child Protective Ser­vices.

Last week, the Legislature and governor passed an emer­gency funding measure that gave Arizonans reason to believe real and lasting im­provements in child welfare are possible. Don’t stop now.

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