Foster Care

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A new Kids Count report says that states could do a better job of placing children in foster care with families. May is National Foster Care Month. Doug Nick, director of communications for the Arizona Department of Child Safety talks about foster care needs in Arizona.

RICHARD RUELAS: Thanks for joining us. According to a new policy report from the group, kids count, 14% of children removed from their homes in Arizona are living in what are called Congregate Care Settings. That means group homes, emergency shelters and treatment facilities. Joining me to talk about foster care needs in Arizona is Doug Nick, director of communications for the Arizona department of child safety. Newly named Arizona department of child safety. Thanks for joining us this evening

DOUG NICK: Thanks for having me.

RICHARD RUELAS: What was the reaction when kids count comes out in Arizona sometimes gets beat up a bit. This seemed to have a glimmer of light but what was your reaction when you saw these numbers. Were you surprised?

DOUG NICK: You know, we have meetings, several times during the week where we discuss the numbers of this kind, so the numbers were not, frankly, a surprise. We don't entirely disagree, if at all, with this report. There is certainly a very significant situation regarding foster care in this state, and this is may, it's Foster awareness month, so we are always trying very assiduously, very aggressive to recruit more people into being foster parents. We need more Foster parents in this state. And this report underscores that.

RICHARD RUELAS: What are the challenges of having children in a group home setting or in a setting that's not a family home?

DOUG NICK: Clearly, the best situation for any child is to be in a healthy family situation. And in those unfortunate situations, where a removal is needed because the child is in an unsafe situation we want to get them to a safe situation. So certainly congregate care in the sense that it's getting children out of an unsafe home environment is good but not ideal. And our real mission is to ensure that we get a good foster placement, increase the number of adoptions, and get the children into permanency, if not reunification, certainly a permanent forever home where they are loved and can thrive.

RICHARD RUELAS: During the crisis months we were hearing tales of children living in the offices, are those days behind?

DOUG NICK: We, actually, have good news on that because last week, we announced that, through a partnership with Child Help, that we are able to shortly retrofit office space for sleeping purposes. Donated cribs, beds, other materials, and things like that, and if you are interested in donating childhelp.org is the organization. That's not going to eliminate that very unfortunate problem of children sleeping in the offices. Again, it's hardly ideal but it is better than being in an unsafe situation where their lives may be threatened. When this comes online, this new facility here, that we're going to partner with child help, hopefully in a week or so, that will mitigate part of that problem. It will be for children ten and under, so, and we are constantly looking for ways to do more partnerships. Certainly, having kids in offices is nowhere near the standard we want to have.

RICHARD RUELAS: That was never the plan but now it seems like you are ready to, if we hit a crisis mode again, there is a better situation.

DOUG NICK: Correct.

RICHARD RUELAS: What are some of the barriers, as you try to recruit families to become foster families, what are the barriers? What are people worried about? What should they know?

DOUG NICK: I think if families haven't been a part of that before, -- and by the way. The foster families that we have are really doing an incredible work. They are not getting in nearly enough recognition, and we're working to change that, and in fact, in our payments to the families, we're starting to send out notes of appreciation, and thanking them for the work that they do. Nobody is getting wealthy off of this. It's a small amount of money and people are doing it out of love and the desire to help children. So, we really do appreciate that. And that's a message that we're trying to put forth even more under director Greg McKay. But, the barriers I think, there is a certain amount of mystery, or could I do this? Is it going to be so much work? And I think that the rewarding part of it is, as any parent in a loving home can tell you, being a parent to these wonderful children has its own rewards, and it really takes a special person to do that. But that's the good news, there are a lot of special people in Arizona. A lot of untapped people in Arizona, with that special something. If they are interested, they can go, they can -- there is some phone numbers that they can call, there is websites that they can go to, our own website. There is kids need you, which is a 1-877 number, 1-877-kids need U(the letter u). By the way that is a bilingual phone line. We have a need at all levels of demographics and ethnicities, it's an important situation.

RICHARD RUELAS: Is there is there a need for Latinos and Native Americans? Where does that break down?

DOUG NICK: We have, of the 17,000 kids in out of home care, 36% are identified as Hispanic and another 8% are identified as Native American. Now, Federal law prohibits this department or every department from matching foster or placements based on race or ethnicity, and that goes back many years ago because you don't want to look at it that way. A child is a child, and they need to be in a safe environment. So, but, having said that, there is a need, of course, at all levels of the cultural spectrum for people to be foster parents and throughout every part of the State of Arizona, especially in some of the rural areas where it is a bit tougher.

RICHARD RUELAS: Do you have personal breakdowns of how many foster families are Latino or Native American?

DOUG NICK: We may have that, and I don't have that off the top of my head. Since we cannot match based on ethnicity, the most important thing is that a child is placed in a safe and loving home, and we do encourage, you know, multi-cultural viewpoints.

RICHARD RUELAS: And I see the idea that Government doesn't want to consider that, but I guess that there is something that says that if a child is going to be pulled out of a home and disrupted -- if they they're used to eating tortillas there is tortillas, they go into a home where there's tortillas. There is some sense of continuity that might help, that can't be considered official.

DOUG NICK: Obviously, we are very sensitive to the cultural implications. When it comes to native Americans, there is an older Federal law called the Indian child welfare act that goes back, I believe to 1974, and you have to make every attempt you can to ensure the cultural integrity of the child. Now, obviously, the first thing is to make sure if a child is in a dangerous situation, get them in a safe place, regardless of the ethnicity, but the Indian child welfare act, actually, does have some very complicated metrics in it, but it does attempt to make every attempt to ensure that the child is placed in a culture that matches, or closely approximates their heritage. Of course, it does get very complicated and difficult with all the tribal issues and so forth and the bloodlines and the federal registry and so forth but -- In fact, the Arizona DCS is one of only a handful of states that has an office dedicated to that very task.

RICHARD RUELAS: I guess the part of the mystery of who these kids are, I think, that might keep people from getting into this program. Just finding out more information might be the only thing keeping, or finding out information might get people to just sign up. Where do they go if someone wants to find out more?

DOUG NICK: There is kids-need-u.gov, or email us at [email protected]. And it is DES we're the DCS but we're still using some of the old servers, it's an I.T. issue. so that's [email protected], and kidsneedU.gov as I said. There is also childrensheartgalleria.org which is not run by us, but we link to that. We have many great partners. I would encourage everybody in Arizona to take a look at this, to search your hearts. To thoughtfully, prayerfully consider whether this is something for you because it is really a rich and enriching experience that is very rewarding. I think that most foster parents would tell you that they have been blessed in ways that they could not have imagined once they took on this important role.

RICHARD RUELAS: Excellent. Doug Nick, thanks for joining us on this important topic.

DOUG NICK: Thank you.

Doug Nick:Arizona Department of Child Safety Director of Communications

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