Foster homes not keeping pace - East Valley Tribune: News

Foster homes not keeping pace

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Posted: Saturday, July 5, 2003 3:45 am | Updated: 1:43 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Patrick Traufler’s incessant fussing and crying pushed his foster mother over the edge.

Police say Angela Monroy grabbed the 6-week-old around his middle, shook him violently, then placed him face down on a comforter and ultimately caused his death.

His short life offers a stark reminder that when state Child Protective Services takes children into state custody it needs to have a safe place to put them.

In recent months, foster care placements have not kept pace with the number of children — particularly newborns and small children — coming into care.

"We’re just getting hit left and right," said Gene Burns, program manager for CPS in Maricopa County. "Every facility we have is full and sometimes we’ve asked them to over-place until we get something going. It ebbs and flows, but lately it’s just been flowing."

The numbers change daily, but on Wednesday area case managers needed foster or group homes for 131 children and had 46 spots available, including just 12 beds for 61 foster children younger than 6. That means the rest of the children were staying in crisis shelters, with relatives or in other temporary housing.

Shelter beds usually reserved for families in crisis, who have not come to the attention of CPS, are being absorbed by children in state custody, Burns said. Shelters and group homes are being encouraged to increase their bed space for children from birth through age 5.

The East Valley Child Crisis Center earlier this year closed its group home for older boys to add 12 more shelter beds for children up to 12 years old. The children are staying longer than some people expected, said center director Chris Scarpati, which means juvenile court judges are backing CPS’ decision to remove them.

"We thought we’d see more kids in and out," Scarpati said. "There’s a big fear that CPS is yanking kids out of families when they don’t need to be. We’re not seeing that."

After the cocaine-related death of newborn Anndreah Robertson became public late last summer, CPS policies were changed and caseworkers began removing more babies like Patrick who were born drug exposed. Anndreah was born with cocaine in her system and CPS had been investigating whether Anndreah’s mother and grandmother smoked crack in front of her two older brothers when they allowed her to go home from the hospital at 3 days old.

In December, just two weeks before Patrick was born, incoming Gov. Janet Napolitano said she wanted to send a "clear signal" that the primary job of CPS is to protect children.

Child welfare advocates, foster parents and CPS workers have hailed the governor’s direction, and generally agree the increasing number of children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect shows the system is working to protect children.

However, they say, the state has failed to plan adequately for where all these kids will go. At the same time, foster care providers are having a more difficult time recruiting new families.

"Shortly after the governor said err in the direction of the safety of children, we certainly saw more babies coming in," said Bev Crawford, director of Arizona Action for Foster Children, which recruits and trains foster parents.

Tempe foster parent Ann McElfresh said she was surprised when CPS presented her with a 6-week-old earlier this year. He had no signs of drug exposure, but his mother had a longtime drug habit and already had lost two children to adoption.

"I really think that last year at this time we would not have gotten him. He was removed simply because she was doing drugs," she said. "Quite frankly, she never should’ve left the hospital with him."

Babies who are exposed to drugs can try even the most seasoned foster parents, staying up night after night, refusing to eat and crying inconsolably.

Patrick had been born with drugs in his system and placed in Monroy’s Phoenix home two days after his Jan. 5 birth.

As he lay dying at Phoenix Children’s Hospital Feb. 17, a second Monroy foster child was removed from their home and later found to have healing arm and rib fractures, according to state records.

Monroy, 26, had been licensed for a year and was relicensed just days before the baby was killed, increasing the number of children she could take from two to three.

Monroy faces charges of first-degree murder and child abuse. An investigative team led by pediatrician Mary Rimsza has completed its review of Patrick’s death, including medical records and foster care policies, and is expected to issue its report any day.

"As we get more desperate for foster parents, we overlook things. We may be more lenient in what we’re looking for," said Christina Risley-Curtiss, associate professor of social work at Arizona State University and child welfare consultant.

"I’ve been the one to go down the list and say, ‘Who can I call and get to take another child?’ " she said. "That’s the nature of the beast when you have more kids coming into care than you have places to put them."

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