A Rocket Docket – for DCS

March 11, 2018 by  

Arizona, like much of the nation, is in the midst of an opioid crisis.  Important legislation is being directed towards this crisis, such as the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, and the patient-brokering bill that I am personally sponsoring, which aims to put an end to the practice of unscrupulous rehabs luring those in recovery away from one situation into another solely for profit. It’s called ‘body brokering’.

Arizona is making a serious, bipartisan effort to curb this epidemic. But as I reviewed the proposals and legislation that will help adults in our state who are battling opioid addiction, I couldn’t help but continue to go back to one question: What about drug-exposed children? What are we doing about the increasing number of infants born exposed to opiates and other dangerous drugs who are in our state’s foster system?

The answer came in the form of Legislation we’re calling a Rocket Docket, which I am proud to sponsor.  Here is how it works:

In most child welfare matters, the Dept. of Child Safety (DCS) must attempt to reunify infants with their parents. Parents are afforded rehabilitation, treatment, counseling, and transportation, among other services, in the sincere hope these parents are able to remedy their situations and become fit parents. This routinely takes years. Under federal law, however, Arizona is not required to pay for the aforementioned services when extreme, repeat abuse occurs. These are called “aggravated circumstances.” These provisions allow courts to move the infants expeditiously towards a permanent home.

I recently discovered that Arizona’s aggravated circumstances provisions are rarely used. Instead of bypassing services in accordance with the law, Arizona offers services in just about every child welfare case, delaying permanent homes for these children by years, as well as thwarting the intent of federal law. Extreme abuse under current law includes parent abandonment of a child, repeat sexual abuse, and repeated physical assault. This bill adds in-utero drug exposure to this list when a parent has a long-standing history of drug abuse, for instance, this is the parent’s third substance-exposed newborn.

This bill aims to get help drug-exposed infants and others in extreme and aggravated circumstances into permanent homes within one year – not the four years it currently takes.

Due process and individual liberty rights are of the utmost important to me.  The legislation firmly protects the constitutional right to parent and all related due process rights – and it recognizes the fragility of drug exposed infants by reducing their time in state care and expediting them to families who will love and care for them. This is an improvement for all parties.

The bill promotes critically important stability for these drug-exposed infants.  The bill emphasizes placing infants with relatives or foster families who are willing to adopt, as well. The goal is give infants a stable home and reduce how many times they are moved. If an infant has been living with a foster family for six months, SB1452 – soon to be heard in House Health committee under a new bill number:  SB 1473 – recognizes that the foster family has essentially become “kin,” and presumes that staying with the placement is in the infant’s best interest. Too often we hear about infants who have been living in a foster home for three and four years only to be moved when a relative with shared DNA is found. Tearing a toddler or young child away from the only family she has ever known harms the child.

Over the years, I have read literature about child attachment, scientific articles about developmental delays that result directly from in utero drug exposure, and listened to story after story about children, abused, then left adrift for years in our system, moving from placement to placement.

There is nothing more important to me than using my voice to help those who are unable to speak for themselves. All Americans have a fundamental right to liberty, including those who are still learning the meaning of that word. This legislation protects these drug-exposed and abused infants in the foster system.


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