TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Each year, the Arizona Department of Child Safety removes more children from their homes.
Right now, the state reports 19,000 children across Arizona no longer living with their parents because officials have determined it is no longer safe for them to stay there. Reasons vary from neglect to physical abuse to sexual abuse.
DCS officials tell Tucson News Now that there are not enough foster homes for the more than 3,000 children in Pima County who need a safe place to live, while their parents work out their issues.
If they are not able to stay with other family members, children go to group homes or foster homes.
However, the problem is there are not enough foster homes to send them to, especially in Pima County. DCS reported kids in Pima County cross county lines more than in Maricopa County to get placed in foster homes because there are more available there.
"If they're not able to find a foster home to stay in, they could easily end up back on the streets going through the same cycle their parents put them through," said Marnie Greggs, a foster family recruiter at La Paloma Services in Tucson. She fell into the role after fostering and adopting two children through the agency. Greggs literally practices what she preaches at home.
"It's definitely a calling. It's definitely my passion," Greggs said. "I live, eat, and breathe foster care in all aspects of my life and I couldn't imagine doing anything else."
Her personal and professional choice has deep roots. Greggs was never in a foster home growing up, but she was adopted at only three days old and feels the need to give back to kids.
She and her husband have six children under their roof. The oldest two are their biological children, ages 14 and 12. The next two in line are adopted, ages 7 and 8 years old. Both were fostered first. The youngest two are foster babies, both about 15 months old.
"Sometimes it's hard, but most of the time it's very fun because you get to play with little kids or kids your own age," 12-year-old Shelby Greggs said. She added it can be difficult when the kids leave and get reunited with their real families.
That is one of the same concerns Marnie Greggs gets when she recruits foster families.
"I think the biggest thing people are hesitant about is having children leave," Greggs said. "What I hear all the time is, 'I don't think I could let a child go home.'"
"What I tell them, even if you give a child two months, three months, or a year of your time, you may give them something that they may never get somewhere else. ... That's something no one can ever take away from them and that's amazing," she said.
The transition for foster parent and foster child is not easy, but agencies provide resources to help.
"It's so traumatic to remove a child from their families," Greggs said. "They love their parents regardless of what has happened to them and they desperately want to be home. It's traumatic for them to come into foster care and live with a stranger. It's even more difficult because they don't really trust adults and they're very afraid of what's going to happen to them."
Greggs and her husband have fostered 17 children over the past decade.
She predicts part of the reason why the number of children in need is rising is because the state made cuts to preventative services in 2009. She suspects one underlying cause for why parents cannot keep their children is substance abuse.
"I think the most common cause would be an addiction to methamphetamines," Greggs said. "That's a huge factor in Pima County of why children are removed."
"If you're high on a drug, it makes it very difficult to parent your children," she said. "A lot of times, meth makes you not care about anything, including the care of your children."
And now more than ever, Marnie said, it is crucial they find foster homes for these children fast. She encourages anyone who is thinking about becoming a foster parent to contact an agency to learn more information.
There are 18 agencies in southern Arizona that have foster home programs, including La Paloma Family Services.
Applicants must be at least 21 years old and can be single, married, divorced, or widowed. They must also pass extensive criminal background checks and training which can take as long as six months.
Learn how to become a foster parent by clicking here.