Families in the child welfare system are getting divine intervention through a Tucson-based program which connects social service workers with charitable churches.
A year ago, Ana Cepero was pregnant with her fourth child, unemployed, and about to be homeless. The Department of Child Safety stepped in and temporarily took custody of her kids.
"The worst thing was putting my daughter in the car and asking her to be strong when I knew I couldn't be strong," Cepero said as she wiped away tears.
Last week, her reunited family moved into a rental house, and all the kids will have their own beds donated by local churches, through a DCS program called CarePortal.
"I feel so much joy because I fought for them," Cepero said.
Arizona's overburdened Department of Child Safety, which cares for 19,000 foster children, has been looking for creative ways to assist kids in crisis and keep families together. The CarePortal is part of that effort.
"How do we keep kids safe?" DCS program manager Pauline Machiche explains. "Sometimes that means removing them from their homes, but sometimes we can really look at how we can keep them in the home and what supports does that family need."
Machiche says DCS always had community partners. Caseworkers could help families with referrals and discount vouchers, but this partnership helps with a wider variety of needs.
Here's how it works: DCS case managers identify needs from a foster child or family receiving DCS services, then they make requests online in the CarePortal. Leaders at 23 Tucson-area churches receive the requests and look for churchgoers who can donate the money, items or services needed.
Through CarePortal, churches have donated everything from beds, to cars, to plumbing services. They have received more than 200 requests for help since the program launched in December, and it takes two weeks to fill a typical request.
The church-state partnership is working so well in Tucson, DCS would like to expand.