As social service workers focus on recruiting new families to address Arizona's foster kid crisis, an astounding number of existing families are quitting the foster system.
Leila Woodard spent thousands of dollars preparing a room for a 4-year-old girl she met while volunteering. She spent weeks taking classes, filling out paperwork, and undergoing interviews and background checks. By August, she and her husband had a foster care license, and they hoped to eventually adopt the little girl.
"I wanted to make a difference in her life," Woodard said.
The placement was over in less than four months. Woodard says the little girl was taken from her home, but remains in the foster care system. The mom, who also has two biological kids, feels jilted by the system she tried to help. She says they may quit entirely by surrendering their foster care license.
"It's been an emotionally draining situation," Woodard said. "The treatment we've received has been really bad."
Woodard and other foster moms, who spoke with ABC15, say they are frustrated by a lack of appreciation, difficulties contacting caseworkers, and what they see as a lack of transparency
"I had, at one point, thought of being foster parents forever," said Erin who asked to only use her first name because she currently cares for foster children.
Erin says she has opened her home for 8 or 9 years, but she's fed up now.
"They changed from CPS [Child Protective Services] to DCS [Department of Child Safety], but nothing much has changed," Erin said. She says she feels ignored when offering opinions on the best interests of the children under her roof. "If they value us as part of the team we need to be included as part of the team."
DCS officials between September 2013 and September 2015, DCS added nearly 650 foster homes, but foster parents point to another statistic looking at that suggests the number of traditional foster family licenses had a net gain of only 250. They say that’s insufficient and DCS would better help kids by retaining existing families than trying to recruit new ones. Approximately 20,000 kids are in Arizona's foster care system.
DCS officials say they do value foster families.
"Fosters do tremendous work to provide a safe place for what, in many cases, is very traumatized and hurting children." DCS spokesman Doug Nick said.
Nick says DCS is using focus groups and surveys to find ways to boost foster retention rates. At the same time, he says the most common reason for parents closing a foster license is finalizing the adoption of children. He sees that as a success.
"We are interested in making sure our people and every office in every corner of the state are trained to do what they need to do," Nick said, "Obviously in a large state agency we may need to go back and correct something but that is exactly what we are about."