Looking into recent influx of children needing foster homes


PHOENIX — Each week, many foster parents in Arizona receive an email from the director of childcare or foster parents asking if they have room for another child.

Arizona faces a critical shortage of foster parents, and the state is once again faced with placing children in a state office building until DCS can find them housing.

At one point this week, 30 children were being held at what DCS calls its placement center. It is located in a high-rise office building in downtown Phoenix. A DCS spokesman said the number was an aberration. According to DCS, this happened in part because nine sets of siblings were admitted into the foster system at the same time. DCS says it was able to accommodate most of the children through Friday.

“On Thursday we experienced a large influx of children at our Maricopa County Placement Center, primarily due to a high number of sibling groups needing to be placed at one time. Despite the flood of children, our placement center staff had found homes for most of the children by Friday,” DCS said in a statement. (See the bottom of this article for that full statement).

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“It’s hard to say no when the need is still there.”

To say Anika Robinson is an advocate for foster children doesn’t quite capture her commitment. Robinson and her husband have eight children in total, four of whom they raised and then adopted. Robinson has served in the Arizona nursing system for 15 years. She now works in three non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting foster families.

“In a world where there will always be abuse, neglect and abandonment and there are good, kindhearted people who are willing to rise up and work hard […] You have to treat these families like gold.”

While this week’s numbers are alarming, things used to be much worse. In 2015, more than 18,000 children were in government foster care. Hundreds were held in makeshift shelters until they could be placed with foster parents. Today there are far fewer children in foster care. The Department of Child Services says 11,551 children from newborn to age 17 are in foster care as of July.

The DCS mid-year report, released in July, provides some clues as to why child placement remains a challenge. In the state’s fiscal year 2017, there were 4,875 nursing homes. Today there are only 2,835. During the same period, the number of beds fell from 11,046 in 2017 to 6,303 today.

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Anika Robinson says foster parents leave the system for many reasons. Robinson says many, for example, feel undertrained. And if they need to reach a DCS specialist, she says no one answers the phone.

“They care about how they are treated. To receive timely answers and, if there is an allegation, to have the opportunity to go through a fair process and feel supported. Appreciated,” said Robinson.

Robinson and her husband continue to care for children, including a foster child who now lives with the family.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, the Department of Child Services has a list of foster parent licensing offices that can help you. Click here to learn more.

DCS released the following statement regarding the increase in children requiring foster care this week:

“On Thursday we experienced a large influx of children at our Maricopa County Placement Center, primarily due to a high number of sibling groups needing to be placed at one time. Despite the flood of children, our placement center staff found homes for most of the children by Friday.

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Being separated from family can be traumatic for children. That is why we created and designed our mediation center as a welcoming place for children and young people who have experienced abuse or neglect. The mediation center has beds, a kitchen, televisions, movies, recreational activities, video games, on-site behavioral health support, and more to keep the children as comfortable as possible.

Although we have had an increase in children requiring placement this week, we routinely send communications directly to foster families to raise awareness of special needs to match children with caregivers. Although the number of children cared for has dropped from over 18,400 children to under 11,600 children, we always need existing and new foster families to help children who do not have relatives to support them. Above all, we need a home for older children and young people. We encourage anyone interested in becoming a licensed foster parent to visit our website at dcs.az.gov/foster for more information.”





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