House committee approves bill that would provide more nighttime staff at Arizona group foster homes


Hannah Saunders


The Arizona House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill that would add another night staffer at group foster homes last week.

Group homes for foster youth are currently staffed by one adult per 10 children during bedtime hours. House Bill 2543 would provide for at least two adult employees on site at all times. 

Rep. Rachel Jones (R-Pima County) is the mother of three adopted foster children. She noted that two girls recently went missing from a Mesa foster group home. 

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“There are stories all over the country about these types of things happening when dealing with group homes,” Jones said. “I believe that’s putting not only the children in danger of issues, but also the adult.” 

Jones said vulnerable children need to be prioritized, and that adults providing care for them are not put in a position in which they could potentially be accused of wrongdoing. She believes investing in additional staff is a priceless investment.

Chris Gustafson, chief legislative liaison for the Department of Child Safety, noted that daytime foster group home shifts include two staffers, but nighttime contracts only have one.

“We’re happy to effectuate that in our contracts,” Gustafson said, noting that increased costs would be “fairly significant.” 

Staffing models are broken down into three, eight-hour shifts per day. The person working the nighttime shift is required to be awake at all hours to assist any of the 10 children who are tucked into bed. Gustafson said more foster parents are desperately needed to reduce the group foster home need. 

Legislators hope to receive additional information regarding the financing of extra staff members. The committee passed the bill by a vote of 7-3. 

The committee also passed HB 2744 by a 9-1 vote. The bill would grant guardians or agents who have decisional authority to make personal and medical treatment decisions for a patient pursuant to a court order, and allow guardians to directly file evaluation petitions with the court. Currently, legal guardians are not allowed to be engaged with the civil commitment process for individuals. 

“This bill comes to you out of some frustration that’s been voiced to me by clients that I had as an attorney,” said Jim McDougall, a retired judge and attorney. “This bill gives you the chance to recognize the value of family members, and especially those who are appointed guardians for their loved ones and (are) trying to advocate for their best interest.”

McDougall said guardians are not included in discharge planning for individuals receiving involuntary treatment, which the bill would address. Jennifer Milham of Arizona Mad Moms, spoke in favor of the bill, and talked about her experience as a mother. 

“Our son, Nate, was a gentle, funny, quirky child, and out of nowhere in 2019, Nate developed a serious mental illness. He refused to sleep. He thought he was Jesus, and that the government was tracking him,” Milham said. 

She said her son refused all help and didn’t realize he was unwell. The family filed a petition for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation, and when they picked Nate up a couple of days later, he was left untreated. 

“Little did we know this would be the first of many failed petitions.”

— Milham

For four years, Nate has spent incremental time on court-ordered treatment, and Milham said as soon as his court order expires, he will simply stop receiving treatment. During the times he’s been on court-ordered treatment, he was released back to the family instead of being placed in a hospital, she said. 

HB 2587 would direct the Department of Health Services, when determining the amount of a civil penalty, to consider whether healthcare institutions and staff are in compliance with vulnerable adult reporting requirements. The bill would also provide Department of Economic Security and Adult Protective Services (APS) workers with access to unredacted law enforcement records when performing duties related to an APS case. 

“This has been an ongoing conversation for years,” said Brendon Blake of AARP Arizona. “We wholeheartedly support continued efforts to help prevent abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults.”

Dr. John Molina, a representative of the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care, said many Native communities are targeted by the largest sober-living home scams in state history. 

“This mass kidnapping, the luring and false promises of our most vulnerable Native relatives, have further perpetuated the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. We are in full support of this bill to protect the health, safety, welfare, and wellness of our Native American communities in Arizona.” 

— Molina

The bill passed by a vote of 8-1. All bills await further votes in the House.

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