Mothers who have been through the system are leading a task force of reformers
Ideas could lead to improvements in system
By GABRIELLE FIMBRES
Consumed by her drug addiction to speed, Tucson mother Caraleen Fawcett lost her young daughter to Arizona’s Child Protective Services last summer.
She had a choice to make: clean up or lose her child forever. So Fawcett, 25, rebuilt her life. She stopped using drugs, found a job and an apartment, underwent counseling and parenting classes and regained her self-respect.
The Tucson mother is expected to get her bright, beautiful 4-year-old daughter back from CPS Saturday.
Fawcett’s journey through the CPS system changed her life, and she now plays a role in CPS reform.
The agency has come under fire amid accusations of leaving children in abusive households, removing children needlessly, improperly screening foster homes and failing to provide services to children as well as birth and foster parents.
Thousands of Arizona families come in contact with the agency each year. Fawcett’s daughter is one of about 7,500 children statewide living in out-of-home care after being removed by CPS. About 36,000 reports of neglect and abuse were made to CPS last year. Of those reports, about 12 percent were substantiated.
After a series of child deaths and revelations of horrific abuse, Gov. Janet Napolitano directed Arizona communities to examine strengths and shortcomings in the child welfare system.
The call led 90 Tucsonans – Fawcett among them – to join the Community Network Team, with the goal of gathering information on the child welfare system.
Fawcett wanted to be heard concerning her experiences with CPS, and in the process, the single mom became one of five team leaders heading up the local project.
The other team leaders also have experienced CPS from the inside out.
The team has collected testimony from Tucsonans at two public sessions, and will hold a third session Monday. Team members are polling people on successes and failures regarding children and families in Tucson.
Their findings will be compiled in a report due July 1 to the governor and DES Director David Berns. It is expected the information will be used in determining changes within the system.
Fawcett, a patient-care technician at a local hospital, said she was devastated when CPS removed her child.
“I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” she recalled. “I didn’t know where she was or how to get her back. . . . I was living a nightmare.”
Fawcett said she had to conduct a search to find a drug rehab center. “I know I had a drug problem and I needed guidance. I needed help, but it wasn’t there.”
Fawcett credits her CPS caseworker, her parent aide from the Blake Foundation and her attorney, Michael Crawford, with saving her family. She said CPS caseworkers are so heavily burdened, they often cannot be effective. “They are so, so overworked, they don’t have the time to build these families back together.”
Fawcett said more in-patient treatment programs where parents can bring their children are needed. About 80 percent of parents involved in CPS are addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to local estimates.
Fawcett believes some parents should never get their children back because of abuse and neglect.
When the Community Network Team was formed earlier this year, it was assumed two people would serve as co-chairs, said Ron Barber, district administrator for the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. He is serving as the DES director’s representative on the Community Network Team.
But five people were identified as team leaders. Four, including Fawcett, have been involved with CPS or DES. The fifth, Laurie Melrood, helps grandparents and kin caregivers raising children as director of the KARE Family Center, a program of Arizona’s Children Association and the Casey Family Program.
The process allows “the silent voices, typically the ones whose kids are involved in CPS” to be heard, Barber said.
In addition to Tucsonans involved in CPS and DES, members of the religious community, social workers and concerned citizens make up the team.
“One of the things that is pretty clear is when people first come in contact with us (CPS and DES), they feel they don’t have enough information about what’s ahead of them and what they have to do to get their children back,” Barber said.
Discussions involve not only CPS but the behavioral health system, foster care, schools and the community at large.
Tucson grandmother Ginger Stephenson is helping lead the team.
Stephenson, 47, and her husband, Michael are adopting their 10-year-old grandson. The child and his brothers were removed from their home by CPS, and the state severed their mother’s rights, Stephenson said.
Stephenson has spent the last several years trying to navigate the DES system to get services for her grandson, who will legally become her child next week when the adoption is completed. The child has extensive special needs.
“You shouldn’t have to fight to get the services you know the child needs,” she said.
Jymelle Mason, 33, is raising three of her sister’s children along with her own child after her sister’s addiction prevented her from parenting. Mason, a paralegal, also is helping lead the team.
Also on the team is Teresa Shore, who is working to get her six children back from CPS. The children, ages 15 months through 13, were removed last year from Shore, who said she was an addict for 13 years and has been drug-free for nine months.
Shore, 42, said she became involved in the process to inform the governor of a parent’s perspective. She believes caseworkers operate under the assumption that parents with addiction issues will never be able to parent, and cases are not thoroughly investigated.
“I’m grateful CPS came into my life,” Shore said. “It was my reality check. But I don’t agree with a lot of their ways. The process can be humiliating and degrading.”
CPS REFORM SUGGESTIONS
While the Community Network Team continues to gather information, here are some concerns committee members are hearing regarding the child welfare system, and what changes are needed:
• More information for families who have had children removed on what they must do to get their children back and where they can go for help.
• Help for foster families, adoptive families and relatives caring for children in navigating the system by providing easily accessible services and additional financial assistance.
• More inpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs where children can remain with parents.
• Better pay, training and support for Child Protective Services caseworkers, minimizing turnover.
• More parent aides, who help teach parents how to better care for their children and themselves.
• Better screening of foster families, minimizing further trauma to children.
• More thorough investigation of cases.
IF YOU GO
• What: Public dialogue on issues facing children and families and the resources available to them. The public is invited to address the Community Network Team on successes and failures in the system.
• When: Monday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
• Where: City of Tucson Community Resource Center, Sentinel Building, 330 N. Commerce Park Loop.
• Information: Call Ron Barber at 628-6800.
• Get involved: The Community Network Team is collecting Tucsonans’ opinions on successes and failures regarding child welfare. The group is also assessing community strengths.
To complete the two surveys, visit www.unitedwaytucson.org., and head to “What’s Hot.”
MAP: Resource Center
Source: Tucson Citizen
PHOTO CAPTIONS: FRANCISCO MEDINA/Tucson Citizen
Helping gather information about the child welfare system are (from left) Caraleen Fawcett, Ginger Stephenson, Laurie Melrood, Jymelle Mason and Teresa Shore.
When CPS removed her 4-year-old daughter, “I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” said Caraleen Fawcett, shown next to her daughter’s bed. She expects to be reunited with the girl Saturday.
‘They (CPS caseworkers) are so, so overworked, they don’t have the time to build these families back together.’ – Caraleen Fawcett, mother of child removed by CPS