Many Arizona parents tend to cringe when they hear the name “Child Protective Services” or “CPS” for short. These parents know that as soon as CPS gets involved, their kids could very well end up in the Arizona foster care system as a result. CPS workers are often referred to as “baby snatchers” and “kidnappers.” Furthermore, they’re rumored to receive cash bonuses for each child they remove out of their home and place into Arizona foster care. To many, this is also referred to negatively as the Arizona Foster Care Industry, and for good reason.
How Much Do You Know About the Arizona Foster Care Industry?
If you are not familiar with CPS, it is a branch of the state or county’s social services department designed to assess and investigate any alleged child abuse and/or neglect and intervene as necessary. When a child is found to be unsafe in their home due to abuse and/or neglect, the intervention involves removing that child from the home and placing them into the care of caregivers deemed safe by CPS. Sometimes, this can be a relative of the child, but oftentimes it is the Arizona foster care industry, which is a temporary private or group home, in which the caregivers have been vetted by CPS.
Children remain in these homes until CPS deems the children’s parents as safe for the children to reunify with them. If parents do not make the changes needed for CPS to deem them safe, other options are considered for the children. These may include but are not limited to guardianship, adoption, or independent living.
A Dangerous Institution
The Arizona foster care institution is a system that no child wants to be raised in. A system that, unfortunately, can have a lot of negative impacts on children who are placed into it, despite its intent to provide a better environment for the child. Even when the foster home is a safe and nurturing environment, it can still have a negative impact on the child, for the sole fact that it is not the child’s home, and it is not their family. This negative impact is made even worse when the foster care system is corrupt.
Unfortunately, CPS and the foster care system get a bad rap for a reason. While CPS and the foster care system are in place to protect children and offer safety, love, and permanency by removing them from an environment of abuse and/or neglect, there are many instances in which these systems do more harm than good. This has especially been the case with the Arizona foster care industry.
CPS and the Arizona Foster Care Industry
The goal of CPS agencies is supposed to be to protect children from abuse and/or neglect by removing them from the homes in which the abuse and/or neglect is occurring. Then, working with the family towards making positive changes so that the child can be safely reunified with their parents. However, this has not been the case with Arizona’s child welfare agency.
In fact, there has been an abundance of cases being mishandled to the point that it is bringing extreme harm to many children. There are several jobs out there that allow some room for error. However, CPS is not one of them. When the safety of a child depends on you, mistakes can lead to serious and harmful consequences for these vulnerable children. Even small mistakes can have large consequences, and the mistakes made by Arizona CPS have not been small. In fact, they have been so large and abundant, you have to wonder at what point it stops being a mistake and becomes negligence.
Some of the mishandlings by Arizona CPS have included but are not limited to improper and inadequate documentation, no documentation at all, turning a blind eye to over 6,500 reports of child abuse that required investigation, and missing abuse and/or neglect in the foster homes, meant to be a safe haven for these children, due to ignorance.
The Arizona Foster Care Industry – A Long History of Failure
A specific example of this comes from Sammie Lopez, who shares her experience in the Arizona Foster Care System, stating she was placed with a family who “did not speak the same language” as her and her four sisters, and who, after a while, became “physically and mentally abusive” to her and two of her sisters (Lopez, S., Feb 26, 2020). If you find this difficult to believe, ask yourself why in 2014, Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, felt the need to go as far as to completely dissolve the entire state’s child welfare agency in order to start completely fresh.
In my opinion, that says the system was completely irreparable, and perhaps was also a way to avoid unwanted investigations within the Agency that likely would have brought to light a lot of scandals. It is said that the decision came after “the discovery of uninvestigated reports,” “problems with understaffing, chronic backlogs and child deaths” (Christie, B., January 14, 2014). When I hear child deaths, I think there should be a police investigation attached to that, rather than erasing all of the evidence. What I think when I hear the words “erasing evidence” is the word “coverup”, but that’s just me.
Jan Brewer “Cleans House”
Turns out, back in 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer fired the head of the Arizona Department of Administration, one Brian McNeil, over what her spokesperson said “was a personal matter”. There was just an email sent out to Mr. McNeil’s department stating that he was “no longer with the agency.” After doing some digging it turns out that Mr. McNeil was known to be constantly butting heads with Gov. Brewer in regard to the mess that her administration was constantly causing in Arizona. A number of her administration staff had been investigated by his office, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with the “personal reasons” he was fired by former governor Brewer.
With the dissolution of the old CPS agency, came the establishment of the new and supposedly improved “Child Safety and Family Services Division.” However, it seems more like it is just a new name for the same old corrupt system.
A news article from AZ Central in 2017, after the dissolution occurred, shares the story of an almost two-year-old, who was removed by a Tucson child welfare caseworker due to alleged drugs in the home and domestic violence. She was placed in foster care for four years, while her mother “fought to her back”. During this time, she was placed with a man who “investigators suspect repeatedly sexually assaulted her and other foster children while he ran a pedophilia ring”. 11 out of 42 interviewed families, who had their children removed from their care, report their children were abused, “exposed to drugs, or harmed in some other way while in foster care” (Ortega, B. June 4, 2017).
Failure After Failure
There are several areas in which Arizona CPS has failed the children who are being abused or harmed while in the Arizona foster care industry. For one, they are not analyzing the data of foster care problems in order to identify patterns for future prevention. This sounds a lot like negligence on behalf of the Arizona child welfare agency. Another form of negligence that likely contributes to the harm children are experiencing in the Arizona foster care industry is that caseworkers are not interviewing the children privately while visiting the foster homes.
As a former child welfare caseworker in Nevada, it was a requirement of my job to meet alone with the children during every home visit. In fact, this was a number one priority for us because this allows the children the opportunity to voice concerns regarding their foster home, without fear of the foster family hearing and retaliating. If children are not given a safe space to voice their concerns, they are not going to do so. This can lead to abuse of a child not coming to light.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
CPS workers are in a pretty high position of power if you truly think about it. They have the ability to take a parent’s child away from them. Yes, they typically need a warrant from a judge to do so but CPS workers are highly trusted individuals amongst the courts and their word is taken over the parents’. The hope is that if you are a CPS worker, you are an ethical person who cares for others and only wants what is best for the children. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Sometimes, CPS workers are just flat-out unethical. Other times, they have become so burnt out from working with CPS for so long, that they lose their empathy. That, or they are overloaded with so many cases that it’s impossible to provide each case the care it needs. They may also become too mentally exhausted to care. Sometimes, it can even be all three. I encountered all of this many times throughout my CPS career. Unfortunately, these issues can be quite prevalent amongst CPS workers. Sadly, Arizona CPS is a shining example of the negative consequences of these issues.
Removal Rates On the Rise?
In 2016, the number of children placed in Arizona’s foster care system rose to an all-time high of over 19,000 children” (Machelor, P., & Trevizo, P., n.d.). Arizona made it seem as though this occurred because several Arizona residents were just suddenly abusing and neglecting their children. In actuality, thousands of children were removed from their homes unnecessarily.
There are cases in which a family just needs extra support and help to access resources, such as when a family’s issues are caused for the sole reason that they are struggling with poverty. In these instances, CPS should be taking the least intrusive route and providing the family with resources and support. However, Arizona CPS was not implementing the less intrusive services. Rather, they were going straight to the removal of children.
Arizona began allocating more money to foster and adoption services. Furthermore, they began defunding programs created to assist families struggling with poverty or other related issues. This led to families plunging deeper into poverty, increased drug and alcohol addiction, and mental health issues being left unaddressed. With no preventative measures in place abuse and/or neglect can escalate.
The Poverty Problem in Arizona
An example of this is the lack of childcare assistance for families struggling with poverty leading to child neglect cases skyrocketing. Frequently, parents were stuck leaving their children at home so that they can work as they had no other options. Imagine doing the best you can to provide for your family, and then having CPS take your child away for neglect, rather than helping you come up with solutions such as childcare.
In order to better highlight where some of the issues that lie between Arizona and Pima County, it is important to analyze data on the community. According to an article from the Center for Health Journalism, one in four children under the age of 6 years old are living in poverty. Around 70 percent of the abuse and neglect cases that were seen at Pima County Juvenile Court Center in 2016 involved substance abuse by one or both parents.
Between 2008 and 2016, mental health issues among court-involved families rose by 52 percent. Teenage mothers accounted for 7 percent of the babies born. This goes to show that many of these families lack the resources neede to be safe caregivers for their children. And yet, they’re not being provided the resources and support they need to be successful. The end result? Families are torn apart due to CPS removing the child or children from the home.
Race & Removals of Children
Some other important data to consider is that of race. About 60% of child removals in Arizona are children of color. The most significant disparities are found amongst black and Native American children. The number of Black and Native American children removed from their homes far exceeds the proportion of the population. These sorts of numbers are not analyzed by dependency courts, which leaves these issues unaddressed. Overall, it appears Arizona turned a blind eye to the issues at hand. Therefore, positive changes are not being made.
It is clear that the Arizona CPS and Arizona foster care industry is not getting better. In April 2021, the number of children in the Arizona foster care industry remained at a high number of over 13,400. There has been a 33% increase in the abuse and mortality rate from 2018 and 2019, with a total of 100 children dying from maltreatment in 2019. There are not enough CPS workers or foster homes to adequately manage the number of children entering the system.
Today, nearly 8 years after the CPS shutdown, there continue to be abuse and neglect cases in foster homes. They go unrecognized for far too long. In other words, there are several children unnecessarily removed from their families, where supportive services could have been implemented in lieu of removal, and placed into the homes of strangers who go on to abuse and neglect them. Is this always the case? No. However, this should never be the case. Arizona CPS needs to do better. The Arizona foster care industry needs to do better. This can start by reallocating funds back into preventative measures such as supportive services and resources.
The Takeaway About the Arizona Foster Care Industry
No matter how backlogged you are or demanding your supervisor may be to process cases, you’re responsible for people’s lives. It’s the emotional and psychological future of these children that are getting run through the system. Drug use, abuse, and neglect are prevalent in every institution and location, not just the Arizona foster care industry. However, it’s not the children’s fault.
These patterns are so repetitive it’s crazy. Not just repetitive in that you see the same abuse case to case, but repetitive that the abuse these children are suffering will be recycled and repeated on their own children, and so on and so forth. The Arizona foster care industry isn’t just one of the problems. The Arizona foster care industry is just a symptom of the actual problem. That problem is how mental health is addressed in this country in its state and federal institutions. When that fact is addressed is when our country will truly begin to heal.
Help Us Fight the Good Fight
Costs to document this historical government tragedy have been excessive. However, they are far from over. Our personal expenses to fight the powers that continue to victimize our children and their families have exceeded over $1,000,000. They continue to grow by the day. In order to save face, the state of Arizona continues to blame the victims of corruption. They do so at great damage to their reputations and credibility.
Any contribution you can make to aid our cause is most appreciated. You can donate to Saving Grace Advocates using the link provided. Please help us fight Arizona CPS corruption. We must bring justice to the families and children who have suffered at their hands. Thank you for your continued support and contributions.