by Jim Nintzel
State officials acknowledge a current-year CPS budget gap of up to $35 million, about $27 million of it because of the growing number of foster kids and the need to place more children in group homes and shelters.
The state has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of kids in foster care this past year, hitting a record 14,500 children last month, as worker caseloads continue to be two and three times state and national standards. The influx and a shortage of foster homes mean more children are living in group homes and shelters, which cost the state up to four times as much as placing kids in foster homes.
Officials maintain the shortfall has not led to any reduction in services to families, including supervised visits and parent-aide services. They say the budget gap will be filled with $20 million in federal block-grant funding intended for a variety of social services.
But internal memos and interviews with service providers, attorneys and others show parents and children are limited to one visit per week even though Maricopa County Juvenile Court judges routinely ordered two visits weekly for babies and children 3 and younger.
CPS also has drastically reduced the use of parent aides, who had been supervising most weekly parent-child visits. That task that now falls to CPS case managers and assistants, known as case aides, even as the number of foster children continues to rise.
“It’s true that there’s no reduction in dollars, but there is a reduction in services if you look at the fact that everybody isn’t able to get services,” said Ron Carpio, a vice president for TERROS, which runs the Families FIRST substance-abuse program in Maricopa County. “They can’t keep up with the visits.”