EDITORIAL Child-welfare legislation
The Republic | azcentral.com
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.