After a Phoenix mother was charged with six counts of child abuse, new details have emerged about what was observed when officers arrived at her home.
Officers were called to the scene of Alejandra Angel Flores’ house when her sister had called authorities about a domestic violence related incident at Flores’ apartment. When officers arrived, they did not find a domestic violence incident, but instead a situation of apparent child abuse.
According to a Phoenix New Times article, when Flores opened the door, Phoenix officer Anthony Daley said he found six children who appeared to be wearing dirty clothes and looked like they had not bathed in a long time.
After Flores agreed to a welfare check by officers, the scene they found was even more disturbing. Dirt and food littered the floors, electrical wires were exposed, dirty dishes were piled in the sink, and cockroaches were everywhere.
“While walking through the apartment, I had difficulty breathing and had to exit to catch my breath due to the odor,” Daley noted.
According to the officers, Flores was said to not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the welfare check. One of the other officers called the Department of Child Safety, which sent out two employees to take custody of the children. According to court documents, Flores did not have any family members that could take care of the children.
Ordinarily, the Department of Child Safety attempts to place children taken from homes with family members. Arizona law requires the Department to choose the “least restrictive placement” that is consistent with the children’s needs. A.R.S. § 8-514 prioritizes placement with the child’s parent or grandparent before other family members and, if none of those are available, then with a licensed foster care provider or other caretaker. Sometimes, placement with the parent during the investigation is still possible (an “in-home dependency”), although other circumstances may warrant removal of a child from all contact with any family members while the court process takes place. Among the most frequent scenarios, however, is the one in which DCS places the allegedly dependent child with a family member – a “kinship placement.”
Kinship placement presents a variety of challenges for families because, often, the family member tasked with providing care for the child during investigation is torn between following the DCS case plan and wanting to believe that their loved one – the child’s parent – did not act in such a way as to justify DCS intervention at all. A grandparent, for example, must juggle with providing for their grandchild placed in their custody while simultaneously supporting a healthy resolution for their child accused of child mistreatment or neglect.
Additionally, DCS does not always identify or fully consider relative placements before sending children into foster homes. Although the overwhelming majority of foster parents are fantastic at providing children the care they need during times of crisis, Arizona law acknowledges that the best placement is with family, if possible. Legal disputes regarding the propriety of placement during a DCS investigation arise frequently in Maricopa County, where the Juvenile Division of the Maricopa County Superior Court maintains jurisdiction over dependency and delinquency matters.
A DCS investigation can be the single most stressful experience for Arizona parents, children, and families. Although child welfare issues trigger expansive authority in the Department of Child Safety to intervene and protect children, the parents and other family members still have the right to be heard and to participate in the proceedings. DCS does extremely important work, but their famously overwhelming case load sometimes results in mistakes being made. Mistakes in placement are among the most common and require quick resolution for the child’s benefit.