May 19, 2004
After taking in a grandson years ago, then a granddaughter, Betty V. Vega figured she had the room and the heart to care for other people’s kids.
Now, at 65, she has three little girls at home and is proof that foster parents come in all shapes and sizes.
"There are so many children," said the Chandler resident. "They just want to be loved."
Nearly 260 Maricopa County children — about half younger than 5 — are waiting in shelters and group homes because there are no foster families for them. Longtime foster care recruiters say they’ve never seen it this bad, nor seen so many babies and young children waiting.
Gov. Janet Napolitano on Thursday will tie the 8,400th ribbon on trees in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix, representing the number of Arizona children in foster care, to call attention to the shortage. Foster care recruitment agencies and Child Protective Services will be on hand for people who want to take the first step toward becoming a foster parent or a CPS case manager.
Foster parents must be 21 years old and meet other requirements, but they don’t have to be rich, married or female. They can decide what type of child they will take, and may set requirements for age, gender, ethnicity and the level of physical or mental problems they’re willing to deal with.
"They don’t need to be Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver to do this. A lot of different lifestyles fit this program," said Bev Crawford, director of Arizona Action for Foster Children in Tempe.
Crawford said she’s particularly worried about babies waiting for foster homes, because they aren’t bonding with one caregiver. Some have stayed in shelters for as long as three months, she said, where they don’t get the oneon-one attention they need for early brain development.
"We’re already getting kids who are needy. At the very least, they’ve been exposed to drugs," she said.
Among Crawford’s foster families are several single mothers, like Vega, and some single fathers. They are young and old, with large families or no other children. Some are retired, others work full time.
Dana Markusen is a CPS case manager in an investigations unit, working out of the Mesa Center Against Family Violence. She’s looking for a home for two brothers, ages 7 and 11, and wants to keep them together. For now, they’re living in a group home.
The number of foster children has been growing steadily for more than a year, spurred in part by Napolitano’s directive to protect children above preserving families, followed by a special legislative session that gave CPS more funding and more authority to remove children in neglect and drug-use cases.
About 60 percent of Arizona’s foster kids qualify for federal child welfare funding because of their parents’ income. The report by the Pew Commission recommends that all children receive this aid, regardless of income, and that federal grant money be available to states to reduce the number of kids in care.
Betty Vega tries to recruit foster parents when she can, but she’s kept busy with her 10-year-old granddaughter Juaquina, and two 5-year-old foster girls. She’s in the process of adopting one and is legal guardian of the other.
What: Gov. Janet Napolitano, Department of Economic Security director David Berns and Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents Association president Kris Jacober call for more foster families and child welfare case managers.
When: 9 a.m. Thursday
Where: Wesley Bolin Plaza, 17th Avenue and Washington Street
For information: To find out about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, call (877) 543-7633 or visit www.azdes. gov/dcyf/adoption/ To learn more about the foster and adoptive parents group, visit
To learn about becoming a Child Protective Services case manager, e-mail