PHOENIX (Tuesday, May 26, 2015) – Arizona Department of Child Safety Director Greg McKay is commissioning a multidisciplinary group of volunteers to reshape Arizona’s foster care system. The Fostering Inclusion Respect Support Trust (FIRST) Advisory Commission consists of professionals and community partners with a depth of experience with Arizona’s foster care system.
“Arizona’s foster care system has the potential to do much more to serve this state, and significant changes need to be addressed,” McKay said. “We absolutely need the input of foster parents and experienced professionals who have a thorough knowledge of the foster care system. The FIRST Advisory Commission will tackle the big job of finding and implementing best practices so that the foster care system works better. Arizona’s children and foster families deserve nothing less.”
Arizona’s foster care system has experienced a 56 percent increase in children in foster care over the past five years, while the number of foster families has increased 9 percent, leading to a 73 percent increase in children living in congregate care. Congregate care comes with a higher price tag—both in terms of family stability for children and for taxpayers who pay an average of triple the cost for children to stay in group homes instead of family settings.
With foster families closing licenses as quickly as new foster families can be recruited, McKay is tasking the commission with first looking at the ways a foster family experiences the system from the licensing process through receiving and caring for a child in the home.
The team will work with McKay to use data-driven interventions that improve the consistency of quality when foster parents interact with the system, ensuring that foster families feel respected, trusted, and empowered. By anticipating the needs of foster families over time in multiple interactions, the agency can rebuild trust with foster families and increase the number of children in family environments. This will both provide better outcomes to children in foster care and potentially reduce taxpayer expenses.
“Every child deserves to live in a family—thriving and preparing for a future. To get more children out of group homes and into family settings, we need to make changes to ensure the families opening their homes to children in foster care feel enriched, not drained by the system. We have to create an environment where foster families feel respected and valued.” said McKay.
The team is led by Ron Adelson who is CEO of AASK (Aid to Adoption of Special Kids), who has substantial experience in the private sector managing the turnaround of struggling businesses.
“Most advisory committees hand over a long report of the problems everyone already knows, then leave the overburdened bureaucracy with little thought to how their recommendations will be implemented. Our team is committed to following through both the implementation design and execution phases. McKay has emphasized the need to streamline and modernize processes to give overburdened caseworkers and the children on their caseload the opportunity to be more successful.” said Adelson.
“Director McKay has asked the team to focus first on improving the foster family experience. He understands that to get more children out of group homes and into foster families the way foster parents experience the system needs to change. Foster families are not just inviting children into their homes. They are inviting the entire bureaucratic system.” said Adelson.
In addition to Director McKay and Adelson, Commission members include:
- JoAnne Chiarello, MA, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family counselor and clinical psychologist who developed the first mental health Youth Advisory Board in Maricopa County, and is also a member of AASK.
- Kris Jacober is a foster parent and Executive Director of the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, and president and founder of Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents. She has also filled marketing, communications and fundraising positions at Arizona’s Children Association.
- Juliet Peters, is a former Chief of the Child and Family Protection Division of the Attorney General’s office, a current board member of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, and has served on the Department of Economic Security’s executive leadership team.
- Christine Scarpati is the founding Executive Director of Child Crisis Center, a member of numerous boards and committees devoted to child advocacy, including Voices for CASA Children and First Things First SE Maricopa Regional Council.
- Dawn Teo is a foster parent and President of Foster Children's Rights Coalition, which works for the rights of foster children. She has more than 25 years of experience managing communications and business operations in both for-profit and non profit organizations.