TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - There are 17,000 Arizona children in foster care, a new record.
So many, there are not enough seats in the University of Arizona's McKale Center to fit them all. That doesn't even include the 15,000 cases that are backlogged in the system.
The state is taking action to respond to the the foster care part of the crisis, but local child advocates say more is needed.
A few years ago we reported that there were 14,000 children in the Arizona foster care system. It was called a crisis then. Imagine what it is now.
In Tucson, Casa de los Niños staff and volunteers care for children who need a safe place to live temporarily.
Casa is on the frontlines of the crisis, a crisis Casa's CEO Susie Huhn says is damaging a whole generation of children who experience abuse and neglect before they are removed from their homes. She says agencies feel as if they are acting like emergency rooms.
"How do we stop the bleeding today? But we have to be looking at the bigger picture if we're ever going to fix the system," Huhn says.
The bigger picture.
The new head of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, or DCS, Greg McKay, has created a commission to look at the foster care problem, but Huhn says the entire situation needs to be addressed, not just one part of it.
"How do we do more to keep families together before removing the kids so that they don't come into the system? And then how do we take the kids that are already in the system and make sure their families have enough support services to safely reunify? We have to have a plan that works on all--the beginning, the middle and the end at the same time. But we also have to have a commitment politically to fund it, to staff it and to stay the course for some time because it will take time to turn it around," Huhn says.
Huhn says it costs $5,000 to give a family the support it needs to stay together in a healthy way so the children are not removed.
Compare that to the more than $30,000 a year it costs for one child to be in foster care.
As Huhn puts it, the government should not be raising our children.