Arizona lawmakers focus on the health of vulnerable youth


Hannah Saunders


The Arizona House Health and Human Services Committee focused on the state’s Department of Child Safety (DCS) and the foster youth population at its meeting this week, where they considered legislation designed to support this vulnerable population.

House Bill 2704 would establish a foster youth permanency project team to implement solutions that remove barriers to permanency for children who are likely to be in DCS custody when they turn 18 or those participating in the Extended Foster Youth Program

“What would you do to help an abused and a neglected child find a family?” asked J. Kendall Seal, vice president of policy for the Center for the Rights of Abused Children. 

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About 19,000 youth age out of child welfare agencies nationwide, and 730 are within the state of Arizona, according to Seal. Many youth involved in the foster care system are more likely than the non-foster care population to experience incarceration, unemployment, and homelessness. 

“This bill is based off of a similar program in Georgia,” Seal said. “They assembled a team of experts, including child welfare attorneys and specialists, to identify and remove barriers to permanent families for children in foster care who are at the highest risk of aging out of the system.” 

Seal explained how in the first few years of the implementation of Georgia’s program, 20 to 25 percent of children were placed with families, and youth who didn’t obtain permanency still had improved outcomes. 

“This really focuses resources and attention on this population.”

— Seal 

HB 2704 passed by a vote of 8-1. 

Under HB 2323, superior courts would be prohibited from issuing or authorizing DCS to take temporary custody of a child based on a sworn statement or testimony from a licensed physician or healthcare provider who performs evaluations for DCS. This bill would also establish DCS procedures for when a child is referred for a specialty medical evaluation. 

A DCS representative noted how the department does not rely solely on the medical condition, but rather, when a concern is brought forth, DCS launches an investigation. The investigation involves interviewing the child, their family members, and their doctor to discuss the most positive and beneficial outcome. The bill passed by a slim vote of 5-4. 

HB 2361, relating to the removal of children from DCS, failed to pass. The bill would have permitted courts to order permanent or temporary out-of-home care for children prior to when a preliminary protective hearing is held. It also would have removed the ability for a child safety worker or a child welfare investigator to take a child into custody without a court order. Members of the committee saw concerns: if a child is in an unsafe living situation, they should be removed immediately rather than undergoing the lengthy process of obtaining a court order. 

Rep. Lupe Diaz (R — Greenlee County), bill sponsor, mentioned how there have been many complaints about DCS not following protocols, and noted how the caseworker would have the authority to enter a home and remove a child under certain circumstances. 

“We are actually putting layers into the child protective services,” Diaz said. “It puts a layer for those that are out in the field having to determine whether to remove a child out of its home or not.” 

Diaz added how this bill would “protect the home from, basically, invasion,” and that a case worker would be required to enter a residence with a court resolution or police officer. 

The committee also passed HB 2447 by a vote of 8-1 during the meeting, which maintains DCS’ existence for another four years.

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