The state of Arizona spends way too much time and expense in court on public policy matters. I’m not able to find a state-by-state comparison for most litigious state, but I’m fairly certain that Arizona ranks at least in the top 10. In some cases, it is our lawless Arizona legislature suing to defend their unlawful or unconstitutional actions, and in other cases it is the state of Arizona being sued by claimants for unlawful or unconstitutional actions.
If we had a government that believed in sound public policy motivated to do right by its citizens, rather than an ideological driven government looking to score political points, the taxpayers could be saving millions of dollars in attorneys fees and litigation costs.
The latest public policy lawsuit to be filed against the state of Arizona is by foster care children in the state’s care. This is not a new problem. The Arizona Republic reported in August 2013, Arizona’s foster-care crisis deepens. The key takeaway from this report: “State officials and child-welfare experts . . . said the agency’s struggles point to a larger crisis of poverty, made worse by state budget cuts during the recession that eviscerated programs, such as child-care subsides, that help struggling families.”
It was these public policy choices that led to the filing of the instant lawsuit. The Arizona Republic reports today, Arizona sued over poor foster-care conditions:
Arizona’s neglect of children in foster care “shocks the conscience” and amounts to official apathy toward the plight of nearly 17,000 children, a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court alleges.
Read the Complaint: Beth K. v. Flanagan (Scribd).
“It is time that someone gives voice to the thousands of children in foster care who have no say about where they live, where their siblings go, or what happens in their future,” Kris Jacober, president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, said in a statement accompanying the suit.
“Children are still sleeping in (state agency) offices because there is nowhere else for them,” she said. “They’re not receiving timely or needed mental health services. The children in this lawsuit represent thousands with similar stories. The state can’t simply bring them into custody and provide for them on the fly.”
The suit, filed on behalf of 10 children currently in the Arizona foster-care system, names the directors of the state departments of Health Services and Child Safety and alleges the state:
Neglects its duty to provide adequate health care for children in state custody.
Has a severe shortage of foster homes.
Fails to promptly investigate reports of neglect and abuse involving children in foster care.
Hampers efforts to maintain family relationships by separating siblings in foster care and not providing required parental visits.
Although the state is aware of these conditions, many of which the suit documents using the state’s own data, it has not corrected them, the lawsuit says.
Because of that, the lawsuit says, Arizona’s actions show “a policy, pattern, custom and/or practice that shocks the conscience, is outside the exercise of any professional judgment, and amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutionally-protected rights and liberty and privacy interests” of the children named in the suit, as well as all children under state care.
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The suit seeks a series of remedies, ranging from an increase in foster homes to timely medical care. The suit uses pseudonyms for the 10 child plaintiffs, who range in age from 3 to 14. It seeks class action by the court on behalf of all children in state foster care. As of September, there were 16,990 children in state custody, according to the latest data from the Department of Child Safety.
The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, the local law firm of Coppersmith, Brockelman LPC and the New York-based Children’s Rights organization are handling the case.
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The filing comes seven months after the state created a stand-alone child-welfare agency in the wake of the discovery of nearly 6,600 reports of child abuse and neglect that went without investigations over nearly four years.
But that highly publicized effort, which resulted in the creation of the Department of Child Safety, didn’t address the issues that plague foster care, said William Kapell, lead attorney with Children’s Rights, an advocacy organization.
In fact, despite all of the attention on child welfare over the last year, not much has changed, said Anne Ronan, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.
“It created a more-expensive investigative unit,” she said.
And if that investigative effort results in more children being removed from their homes, she said, the state needs to be prepared to cover the cost of each child’s education, health care and mental-health treatment.
Those responsibilities have been sorely neglected, the lawsuit points out, as it documents travails that the 10 children have endured.
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The case illustrates the lapses by the state in meeting its goal of maintaining family bonds, the suit says. The suit also says DCS has not coordinated visits between children in foster care and their parents, nor has it always done monthly visits with biological parents to gauge whether family reunification is possible.
And while the state was trying to fix the former Child Protective Services, it did not keep up with similar complaints on foster care: Nearly three-quarters of foster care-related reports had not been looked at and resolved in the 60-day time frame required by law, the suit says.
DCS case workers are being asked to perform an impossible task without adequate staff, resources, funding, or qualified foster parents available.
The “big picture” problem that the Arizona legislature is failing to address is the high rate of poverty in Arizona, Arizona fares poorly in new poverty and growth rankings, the lack of jobs that pay a living wage, one factor driving declines in real median household income in Arizona is the mix of jobs — with disproportionate job growth among relatively lower-wage jobs, the lack of affordable childcare and subsidies available to working parents, and the lack of access to healthcare and mental health services, including treatment for substance abuse. As The Republic reported last year, Arizona still one of the worst states to be a kid.