Phoenix Foster Parents Arrested

On October 11, a husband and wife were arrested by Phoenix police after a yearlong investigation.  Police say that the man abused seven of his 15 foster children over a six-year period, and that this wife did nothing to stop it.

According to the Arizona Republic, there are over 14,000 children in Arizona’s foster care system.  As a state, Arizona ranks 38th in the nation in child poverty and 39th in overall child well-being (statistics courtesy of the Arizona’s Children Association). 

Although most foster parents are responsible, generous individuals who provide for the children in their care, there are rare cases in which foster parents abuse, neglect, or exploit the children placed in their homes.

The State of Arizona has two chief measures in place to ensure that foster parents are providing a safe environment for their foster children.  First, Child Protective Services (CPS) employs a number of social workers who are tasked with visiting foster homes and affirming that the children are receiving adequate care.  Unfortunately, CPS lacks the necessary funding and personnel to check every home, every month.

The second failsafe is licensing.  Per A.R.S. § 8-509, foster parents must undergo training, receive fingerprint clearance cards, and pass criminal background checks in order to receive foster parenting licenses.  In addition, the homes of prospective foster parents must be inspected, and all of these licensing requirements are repeated each year before renewal. 

As evidenced by the unfortunate case mentioned above, however, licensing and welfare checks are imperfect mechanisms to prevent abuse in foster homes.  An individual who completes the licensing process and whose home is suitable for foster children is not necessarily also a good parent.  Sometimes, foster parents, for reasons unknown (and perhaps unknowable), may pose a greater danger to children than the parents whose mistakes sent their children into foster care.

None of this is meant to suggest that foster homes are inherently dangerous.  The majority of foster parents do a fantastic job of caring for children.  Occasionally, foster parents are falsely accused of abuse or neglect in a vain attempt by biological parents to have their children returned to them.  In Arizona, foster parents have rights, including the right to contest the removal of a child in their care.

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