More than 4,000 children are in foster care in Pima County, an increase of more than 30 percent in one year driven largely by parental substance abuse, a Juvenile Court official says.
About 70 percent of the cases are caused by parental substance abuse, said Chris Swenson-Smith, director of children and family services at Pima County Juvenile Court.
But, she said there is more to the foster care crisis than the reasons children need care.
“We really don’t have enough foster homes for the number of children who are in need for protection right now,” Swenson-Smith said. “Some are in group homes and shelters, and many are placed in licensed foster homes in other counties.”
Those who want to help can become a foster parent. The process is fairly easy and costs nothing, Swenson-Smith said. The Foster and Adoptive Council of Tucson has more information.
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If people want to help, but cannot take children in, they can become court-appointed special advocates, Swenson-Smith said. They help children through the judicial process, including being the “eyes and ears of the judge” and letting judges know about the children’s life, she said.
The Foster Care Review Board also helps facilitate the foster care process toward finding a permanent home for a child.
The Arizona Senate recently gave preliminary approval to a budget with $9 million more for Child Protective Services brings hopes, Swenson-Smith said.
”If the state is able to re-implement many of the prevention programs that were in place a few years ago, we are going to find that far fewer children are abused and neglected,” she said. “Those that are will be able to remain in home safely with some intensive services with their families, which is so much better for the kids.”
Anna Augostowska is a journalism student and an intern for Arizona Public Media.