Children in Arizona’s foster care system are in line for better access to a range of health care services and living situations after a federal judge on Wednesday tentatively approved a settlement with the state in a 5-year-old case that seems to have already forced major changes in the system.
Under the agreement, the state Department of Child Safety must boost the quality and accessibility of behavioral health care services available to foster children, adequately track and attend to children’s physical health needs, train case managers to recognize when kids need specialized care and help them connect with therapeutic services.
Arizona also must take steps to ensure that case managers have enough time and resources to do their jobs properly. Overburdened workers were seen as a major factor in the failures that led to the lawsuit.
Finally, the state will beef up its efforts to place children in the homes of relatives or in other home-like settings. The state must take steps to reduce the placement of children in group homes, in which they are far less likely to thrive.
“Children develop and succeed when they are in stable family homes,” stated Anne Ronan, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, in a news release. “Our agreement is a major step toward ensuring that children who are in the state’s custody can live in their home communities, stay in the same schools and live with their brothers and sisters.”
Harry Frischer, lead counsel at Children’s Rights, said the advocacy groups will work with the Department of Child Safety (formerly Children’s Protective Services) to implement the agreement.
The Arizona Center, Children’s Rights and the law firm Perkins Coie filed suit against Child Protective Services on behalf of 10 foster children in 2015, in the wake of revelations that the agency ignored thousands of abuse and neglect allegations reported on a hotline.
U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver later converted the case to a class action, which means the final settlement will cover all children in the state’s foster care system. The settlement agreement is expected to be finalized in February.
Arizona currently has more than 13,000 children in foster care — whittled down from more than 19,000 in 2016, the year after the suit was filed.