Arizona's child welfare leaders are doing an about-face after cutting several services.
Child Protective Services is restoring supervised visitation and parenting training, among other things, calling the cuts made earlier this month a "misunderstanding."
When we first reported this story, this is the headline we wrote:
Little did we know, the confusion apparently was in the Arizona department that oversees child welfare, the Department of Economic Security (DES).
The children are the ones caught in the middle.
They're children who have been removed from their homes and are in shelters, group homes or foster homes.
DES implemented the new policy in Pima County earlier this month.
Services were cut while the need for abuse and neglect prevention and for family visitation skyrocketed.
In Pima County alone, the Child Protective Services caseload increased 35% in just the past year.
More than 14,000 children, are in "out of home" care in Arizona. The number is a record, and it continues to grow.
As the need rose, DES tried to save money by cutting back visitation services and all that goes with them.
Visitation is considered an essential component for a child's wellbeing.
"Everybody was like--well, how do we do this? How do we stop this when it's really every child's right to be able to have contact with their family. Plus, we also know visitation's the number one best service we actually have in place that can really facilitate reunification for families," says Casa de los Ninos Executive Director Susie Huhn.
Casa de los Ninos was not one of them, but other agencies that contract with the state to provide those services laid off workers here in Tucson and around the state.
The policy to cut visitation was expected to increase the need for foster care, a program already stretched to the limit.
Plus, for an already-strapped DES budget, foster care costs $35,000 per child per year. That's just to start.
Shelter care and group homes cost even more.
The outrage over the decision to cut services reverberated throughout the state.
Then DES met with agencies last Friday.
It came up with some extra money
We're told by people who attended the meeting, state officials said it all was a misunderstanding and that the intent was never to cut services to the children.
But now, for the agencies and the children they serve, it's a waiting game.
"To say that they're going to restore services, the next question is--OK. To what degree? Over what period of time? And when could we expect to see that?" asks Aviva Children's Services Executive Director Bob Heslinga.
He's eager to know the answers for the children and Aviva's staff.
Aviva laid off 32 workers this month because of the original DES decision.
Plus, the complex official process means visitation appointments might not be set in time for children to see their families for Christmas.
Casa de los Ninos' Susie Huhn says DES has agreed to do something it hasn't done before.
That's to meet periodically with the agencies to review the need for services and the best way to do things so this never happens again.
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