Wendy Esquibel and her family have welcomed more than 40 foster care children in her home in the last eight years.
Not only has she become a mentor to other families starting out as foster parents, she has created a place those families can go to get clothes or other items they may need. Oftentimes, the children arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
That outreach, Esquibel said, and increased help from the community are desperately needed in light of cuts to the monthly subsidies Arizona foster families receive.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security announced a number of reductions this fiscal year to grapple with cuts made by lawmakers to help balance the state budget. Arizona faces a nearly $1.6 billion shortfall in revenue this year, with up to double that projected for next year.
“I can tell you the cuts were difficult, gut wrenching even, and we had to work within the budget we were given. We tried to distribute that reduction as broadly as possible across the agency,” said Kevan Kaighn, public information officer at DES. “We’re hoping federal stimulus money will provide some relief across some areas but we don’t have any details yet.”
Esquibel fears some of those foster families just starting out — or people thinking about becoming foster parents — will have second thoughts with the reductions of monthly subsidies, from $910 to $728. DES also reduced or eliminated allowances for clothing, diapers and overnight camps.
“I’m hoping with these budget cuts, rather than lose those families, we can say, 'I know this is tough, but we can work through this. We can get you clothes, diapers, get you equipment,’”” Esquibel said. “We’re going to have to work really hard to fill the void this has created.””
Esquibel started Jose’s Closet in honor of her foster son, Jose, who died of leukemia after being with her for one year.
She and her husband currently have three foster children in their care in their East Valley home, along with three adopted children and two of her three biological children. They range in age from 1 to 22, with all but her oldest child living at home.
Life for her family of nine children is “beyond crazy, but it’s joyful,” she said.
And she has a spot on her foster care license to take in another child.
“Does it make me think twice about it right now? Absolutely. Foster care has always been a negative cash flow situation,” she said.
But, should there be a child in need, she said her family will take him or her in. “This has always cost our family money. Has it been worth it? Absolutely.”
Cathy Barto of Chandler just adopted her 8-year-old foster daughter. Her family has welcomed foster children through their doors for nearly five years.
While the most recognizable cut is in the monthly subsidies, Barto also worries about how the economy in general may impact families.
“These kids can be difficult and they’ll push you to the brink of anxiety,” Barto said. “We’ve had moments like that. You’re stressed already and then add financial stress, they may say, 'When this child leaves I’m done.’”
Some of the support from the agencies that place foster and adoptive children is also disappearing, she said. The agency she has worked through, Arizona Adoption and Foster Care, let her know this week about layoffs, salary cuts and furloughs. An appreciation dinner has been cancelled, along with summer camp.
“They would tell you about resources and training to help you,” she said of the staff. “And camp was so much fun. You got to spend time with other foster parents and share frustrations and ideas.”
It also benefitted the foster children, who found out they weren’t alone. Most of them have never been out of the city. They do it in Heber and you take them to the mountains. They see, 'Wow, there are all these other kids just like me in foster care.’”
Despite the financial cuts, Barto said she and her family will continue to be foster parents.
“We’re going to keep doing it,” she said. “We really enjoy it. I think we’re good at it. We’re just trying to help them get through their pain and anger.”