Shufelt: Arizona needs foster parents

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The most recent semi-annual report issued by the Arizona Department of Child Safety indicated that there were 14,205 Arizona children in out of home care on June 30, 2019.

After consistent declines from a peak of 19,000 children in 2014, this report reflected an increase of 3% from December 2018 numbers. While that doesn’t sound significant, it means that 423 more children were in the system than six months earlier.

That report also reflected another very concerning statistic.

The number of Arizona licensed foster homes dropped to a record low of 3,987, a 6% decline from the prior report. More children, combined with fewer homes, presents challenges for ensuring the safety of children who have been abused and neglected.

Arizona Helping Hands is the largest provider of basic needs to children in foster care throughout the state of Arizona. We once again set new records in virtually all of our service categories in 2019. More twin beds, cribs, back to school kits and birthday packages were provided than ever before. One category, however, saw a year over year decline --- our home safety packages.

In order to be licensed as a foster home, the state has a home inspection process. Required safety items must be present, including fire extinguishers, first aid kits and more. In an effort to remove a deterrent to stepping up to help children in need, Arizona Helping Hands will provide these items to families going through the licensing process at no cost.

This program served 860 families in 2019, a decline of 15% from 2018.

Online communications on our social media feeds also tell the tale --- families are being asked to expand their licenses to take in additional children. One recent family we met shared that in the process of closing their license, a caseworker requested that they consider one more placement --- a baby that otherwise would not have had a home for the holidays.

The Department of Child Safety is constantly seeking more families to come forward to help.

These kids need love and safety. The placement centers are no place for any child to spend time. They need the support and comfort of a family unit.

At Arizona Helping Hands, we do everything we can to support foster families and improve life for boys and girls. We are frequently the first stop on a family’s foster care journey, stepping up to help with the basic needs of beds, clothing, diapers and more. We share resource information with foster parents to help in the challenges that arise with children who have faced trauma.

Our community education forums have included classes on educational rights of foster children, modalities for dealing with substance exposed newborns and more. Foster licensing agencies hold information sessions on how to become a foster parent in our community room.

Our building is named the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation Foster Family Resource Center, and we live up to the moniker, providing resources and tools to foster families every day of the year.

Arizona needs foster families. Do you have a home and a heart that you can open to a child in need?

One caring adult can make a permanent impact in the life of a child.

It’s also important to know that not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can play a role in supporting the 14,000-plus children in foster care.

You can pick up an extra package of diapers and wipes the next time you’re at the store, volunteer in our birthday dreams program or utilize your company’s matching program to make a donation go a bit farther.

The state of Arizona has a tax credit program that allows married taxpayers to donate $1,000 ($500 for single taxpayers) and get every penny back when you file your state tax return. You can help these boys and girls and it will cost you nothing.

If you have a heart and a home that you would like to open to a child in foster care, please join us for an upcoming Foster Parent Orientation. Sessions are held on the third Thursday of each month at our offices at 3110 E. Thunderbird Road, suite 100 in Phoenix.

There are children in need --- will you be there to lend them a helping hand?

Editor’s Note: Dan Shufelt is president and CEO of Arizona Helping Hands.

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