Arizona Foster Care Licensing Agencies Work To Meet DCS Deadlines For Federal Rules
Children run around playing in the entryway to foster licensing agency Family Support Resources.
It’s early in the morning on a weekday, but the kids' energy is matched by Director Marnie Green as she walks into the hallway.
"Whoa, kids out here. Hi, guys! How are you?" She greets the kiddos, as she calls them, and gently ushers them back into their play area — a former office with a playset and some toys.
Green has worked with this agency for 12 years, and in that time has seen more and more foster kids coming into the system, and staying in shelters that are supposed to be only a temporary solution.
"Kids were only supposed to be there up to 21 days," she said about her shelters. "However, with the great demand in the child welfare system right now the kids are in there a lot longer. I even have kids who have been with me in shelters up to a year and a half."
Family Support Resources runs 22 shelters and group homes and licenses foster parents, which Green has overseen for five years.
And, she was here when Arizona’s Child Protective Services was scrapped by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.
The switch was made in an effort to fix the many problems foster children faced, like a major backlog of investigations.
But, Green says by trying to right past wrongs, the new Department of Child Safety (DCS) has taken a lot of control over what foster kids are allowed to do.
"When it went from CPS to Department of Child Safety, I don’t want to say their reins got a little bit tighter, but they did," Green said. "They really, really focused on the safety of the kiddos."
But a few months after that switch, federal laws began changing too. The Reasonable and Prudent Parenting standard from 2014 has trickled down to states and DCS has a plan to comply.
Training supervisor Harry Atkins, who works for the Office of Licensing and Regulation, explains, "This particular training and this whole paradigm shift is to set children up that are in our care for success in life."
Basically, the policies give foster families more power to make day to day decisions, like giving children permission for field trips or going to the prom. In the past, that decision would have been made by a caseworker or the court system, a lengthy process.
The deadline for licensed foster parents to get trained under the new rules is June 1, giving licensing agencies a goal to meet in scheduling classes.
"I’ve had several people from agencies come up to me and say thank you for setting a deadline. Because that way, they can go back to parents and say we have to meet this deadline," Atkins said.
For group home staff, the deadline is even earlier. They have to all be trained by May 1 by a "master trainer" certified by DCS. The staff can then, in turn, train parents.
For program manager Tanya Abdellatif, this is working. She helped arrange training at Southwest Human Development, which is a smaller licensing agency. "While at first I think a June 1 deadline seemed a little intimidating to agencies, we’ve found that the process has been really smooth, everybody’s on board," she said.
Abdellatif said her agency hasn’t had a problem communicating with the Office of Licensing and Regulation if they’ve had any questions.
But, back at Family Support Resources, Director Marnie Green has had more difficulty with the time constraints, because she has more staff to train. And she's worried about problems communicating with DCS staff. "They probably should have trained the case managers first so that they’re fully aware of what Reasonable and Prudent Parenting is before it came out to the staff because I think there’s definitely going to be a conflict."
The conflict, she said, comes from DCS caseworkers historically acting as the guardians.
Still others think that the training is coming too late, since the federal law went into effect in 2014. According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and a KJZZ analysis, at least 41 states already have legislation or policy putting the federal law in action by this year.
But, for the most part, foster parents and agency workers have been looking forward to these changes because it allows them more freedom and, they say, lifts the stigma of being a foster child in Arizona.
"The families also feel like it is normalizing foster care for them," program managerTanya Abdellatif said. "And if we can make them have a normal childhood like every other child, then maybe they won't be at a statistical disadvantage when they leave the foster care system."
As for foster children in transient places, like shelters or group homes, this could open up more problems for staff that are already stretched thin.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the name of the Office of Licensing and Regulation and the title of Tanya Abdellatif.