Thousands of children in Arizona could be affected by a new state policy, and it seems there is a great deal of confusion over what's happening with Child Protective Services.
It's a situation where agencies that work directly with children who have been removed from their homes say the services for those children are being cut.
That's while the state is saying it's not cutting budgets. It's just being fiscally responsible.
It has to do with supervised visitations that local agencies handle for the children and their parents through contracts with the state Division of Children, Youth and Families, or DCYF.
"We were just informed this week-- Monday of this week, in fact, that the state is running a shortfall when it comes to providing children's services," says Casa de los Ninos Director of Children and Family Services Joanne Karolzak.
11 mostly Tucson-based agencies receive state funds to provide visitation services in Pima County.
When a child is removed from his or her home, visitation with the parents may be set up.
The number of children removed has skyrocketed, but at $18 million, the budget for Parent Aide Services is less than one million dollars more this year than it was last year.
Last year's budget was $17.1 million dollars. DCYF Assistant Director Veronica Bossack says spending went over-budget at $20.1 million.
The agencies say there's not enough money to cover the need, and it will mean the end of services for some families in Pima County.
That means layoffs for agencies such as Aviva Children's Services that provides 200 to 250 supervised visits a week for children and their parents in pima county.
"After tomorrow, unless something dramatically changes. We will not be hosting visits here." says Aviva Children's Services Executive Director Bob Heslinga.
Heslinga says a conversation he had with a Child Protective Services contract manager on Tuesday went like this:
Heslinga asks, "It says here that we really have no money left and so when do you want us to end the visits? 'Today,' she said. 'End it today.' And I said so we're going to turn over 100 families. What do you want us to do with them? Do we tell them? 'No. Refer them all back to the case manager.'"
Heslinga says that means refer the families back to CPS case managers who already are overloaded with work.
The state seems to be looking for ways to stretch its dollars while dealing with more children than ever in the system.
The Division of Children, Youth and Families says it wants to pay for services only for parents ready to receive them.
Deputy Child Welfare Program Administrator Stacy Reinstein says,"So the message that we are delivering to our providers is that DCYF realizes that services need to be delivered when family and parents are at a level of readiness that creates sustained positive results and outcomes. The services we're providing can't be just automatic for every child and parent that comes into our system. It's critically important that we refer families to services at the appropriate time when a parent is most ready to engage."
Reinstein says Child Protective Services has enough money.
Bossack says, "We have money budgeted for the entire year, and we just have to be mindful in how we expend those dollars."
Local providers contend the division doesn't even have enough money to provide necessary parent visitation services.
Plus, they say the philosophy of waiting until the parent is ready ignores the needs of the child who has experienced the trauma of being removed from his or her home, and who wants to see the parent.
"Research has shown, over a multitude of years, that one major factor in the success of a child being able to be reunited with their parent after removal is ongoing visitation," says Karolzak.
"They need to see their parents and that keeps them from languishing, from being lost in the foster care system," says Aviva's Heslinga.
He says the longer children stay in foster care, the more difficult it is for them, and the higher the potential for high risk behaviors.
In addition to that, he says Arizona's foster care system is overwhelmed and foster care is expensive.
Helsinga says the ones who suffer will be the children.
Reinstein says she agrees parent visitation is very important.
And, though she contends CPS has enough money, she says, if more money is needed CPS will reevaluate.
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