This is a story of how God gives purpose to every individual’s life, even when it ends before it really begins. The “collateral beauty” is what comes after the loss of any human life. It is a phrase coined in a recent movie with Will Smith and Edward Norton titled Collateral Beauty. The movie was about a dad that lost his little daughter to Cancer, and his painful journey to move past her death and to see the collateral beauty that came from her life and death. The story below is the beginning part of an example of the collateral beauty that came from an unnamed victim from the AZ Foster Care system in 2011.
My friend and I had just closed my boutique for the day, and the nightly news was playing on the television set in the back room. My attention immediately shifted towards the television when I heard the news anchor talking about another child death in the Valley. The story described how a daycare worker in Phoenix had placed her hand over the mouth of a frightened , sobbing four-year-old girl to keep her from waking the other children during nap time. The small child was fighting for air as the daycare worker refused to remove her hand from the child’s face. The child was kicking, squirming and pushing to get free of the woman who was suffocating her, but she was too small and eventually her struggling siezed, and her little body was left lifeless on the floor.
This was a parents worst nightmare. How would a loving family face this tragic loss? The murder of an innocent child while left in the care of a trusted daycare facility is unimaginable, and was likely to end with the daycare closing and the worker responsible locked away in prison, or at least that is what might have happened had the child been from a loving family who would mourn her loss and fight for justice for their child.
The daycare worker was not charged for any wrongdoing in the child’s death. The death was ruled an accident and the woman responsible was free to go about her normal life and even potentially cause harm to more children.
They displayed the girl’s photo on the television as they reported the story, and her beautiful brown hair and perfect, little innocent face looked so much like my daughter, who was also four years old at the time, that my heart started to ache as it filled with grief and anger for the loss of this child. How was it possible that no charges were filed? Was this really acceptable to allow something so heinous and unnecessary to happen to an innocent child?
The story went on to show a brief video interview with a man who was the child’s foster parent. He told the reporter that the little girl had no family or anyone that loved her. She was essentially an unwanted child and a burden on society. He explained how there was no need for an investigation or charges in her death. He wasn’t saying it because he thought it was right, but he was telling the reporter why her death would have no justice in his opinion. There was no one to fight for her. He said that she was a sweet little girl who didn’t deserve to die, but her life was not important to anyone, so her death was not important either. He actually said, “She was all alone in the world, and nobody loved her”. Although the man appeared somewhat sad at her loss, he seemed to be hiding something, and I couldn’t help but wonder why a single man was the foster parent to a four year old girl that had no family connection to her.
Why would the state of Arizona think that it would be in a child’s best interest to grow up in a home with a single, childless forty something year old man as her caregiver, and then do absolutely nothing when a daycare worker took the life of this innocent little girl? After the news story, I decided to do an investigation of my own to find answers that would justify the decision made by CPS, the criminal investigators and the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one detail of information related to what happened to the little girl. It seemed that the beautiful little girl had just faded away silently in the Arizona system of injustice without a trace. Regardless of how inconsequential the little girl was to the State and the community where she lived and died, her life would not go unnoticed or in vain, because I would be her voice that was silenced that day by the daycare worker’s deliberate actions that took her life.
Most of us never take notice of issues that have not impacted us personally, and I know that the little girl resembling my daughter was the reason that I finally made an effort to do something more. I wish it hadn’t taken this innocent child’s death to wake me up to the injustice of Arizona’s children, but it was the reason I am now an unwavering, vigilant voice for all the children in Arizona.
I began researching the child abuse epidemic in Arizona and shortly after discovering how serious of an issue it was in Arizona, I chose to close my boutique, so that I could utilize my resources for helping the children of Arizona. At the time it felt like a difficult choice, but I look back now and see it was actually a gift from God. After that, everything started to fall into place. I became actively involved with the Childhelp organization, and I knew instantly that Childhelp and its founders were also a gift from God.
Childhelp is one of the oldest and greatest defenders of abused children in the country. The founders of the organization, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson are the only two reasons that anyone should need to support the organization. Their compassion and dedication to saving children from the horrors of abuse are unprecedented. They have devoted their entire adult lives to their work at Childhelp, and through their commitment and unyielding strength, ten million children have been saved from abuse.
Childhelp has proven to be a leading organization in saving, protecting and rebuilding the lives of abused children. The prevention programs, residential treatment facilities, 24 hour hotline, world renowned advocacy centers, foster care programs, and group homes are all established “For the Love of a Child”. Visit Childhelp.org to learn more about the issue of child abuse.
I didn’t include the amazing work that God allowed me to take part in with changing the AZ Foster Care System in this story, but I wanted to just mention that this child’s death did more than just give my life purpose. I fought with everything that I had to help AZ Kids, but I consistently failed in every effort until I prayed to God for help one night. That is another story, but it is when I realized that there really is hope in the midst of total darkness and evil, because God does hear prayers and He was quick to respond within hours of that first prayer I poured out for the suffering children in my state.
Photo- My children (Grace & Christian) with Childhelp Founders Sara & Yvonne.
The Following are news stories about the Department of Child Safety’s progress since God stepped in to help.
If ever there was a story worth reporting about DCS and the state Foster Care System, it should be these words spoken by Governor Ducey on Monday at the State of the State Address
Improved Child’s Services:
Meanwhile, just two years ago, the problems at the state’s new Child Safety department seemed insurmountable. But because of the committed service of our state’s child safety workers, non-profit organizations and the faith-based community, combined with legislative support – the Casey Family Programs just named Arizona the best in the country for its foster care reduction.
The backlog that plagued the agency for so long, has been eliminated. The average caseload has dropped from 145 cases to 16. And since a year ago, we’ve found safety and permanency for nearly 11,000 children. So I’m proud to announce that our budget investment this year will be in adoption services, because we are finding kids loving homes.
On Friday, Governor Ducey signed Arizona’s fiscal year 2018 budget, a fiscally responsible financing package that invests in education, protects our most vulnerable citizens, and expands opportunities for those who need it most.
The budget empowers Arizonans to foster and adopt children, makes important reforms to reward caregivers, and improves outdated IT infrastructure to ensure that children’s needs are being met.
Here are three highlights from the new budget:
- $6.1 Million To Upgrade The Arizona Department Of Child Safety’s Outdated Electronic Management System: For too long, the agency has utilized an outdated IT system that makes it unnecessarily difficult to track cases and serve customers. By investing in critical updates to this digital infrastructure, we’re bringing DCS into the 21st century and guaranteeing that Arizonans can be served by in the most efficient way possible.
- $2 Million For Adoption Services: Arizona wants to make sure children under state care find warm homes and loving families as quickly and safely as possible. By investing in adoption services, our state can streamline the process of recruiting new adoptive and foster parents, help out with legal expenses, and continue providing other services.
- $1 Million To Increase Funding For Kinship Caregivers, Known As The “Grandmother Stipend”: Foster parents receive a stipend to alleviate the cost of bringing a child in need into their families. However, extended family members who become caregivers for that child—instead of going through the standard foster care process—do not qualify for the same resources. By ensuring that extended family members qualify for this assistance, we’re helping these families stay together and rewarding kinship caregivers for their invaluable sacrifice.
While there certainly is still work to do, the Arizona Department of Child Safety has seen incredible achievements over the past two years:
- More children are exiting the Arizona childcare system than are entering it for the first time in seven years.
- From April 2016 to April 2017, the amount of time it took to place children decreased from 32 hours to 8 hours.
- In 2016, DCS achieved a 11 percent increase in children achieving permanency over the prior year.
- The total number of open reports has been reduced from more than 33,000 in April 2015 to less than 6,500 today.
- Over the past two years, DCS has safely reduced the backlog of inactive cases from more than 16,000 to less than 500 today.
By supplementing policy and process improvements with investments in programs that work, we can ensure that children and families throughout Arizona are safe and secure.
This year’s budget is another step in making that happen.
Report: Arizona Department of Child Safety turn around continues
An independent report commissioned by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office has concluded the DCS is on the right track.
The report, performed by Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago, praises DCS for making significant strides in transforming the agency to better serve children and their families, according to a press release.
“It is clear (DCS) has undertaken a concerted and strategic effort to implement the recommendations found in our earlier report,” the Chapin Hall report stated in the press release. “The strategy undertaken by the Department has been deliberate and intentional….DCS has clearly established a set of priorities that are well-thought out…(and) we commend the Department for making good use of the Independent Review as a guide to transformation.”
Reducing backlog and workloads
The report praised DCS for successfully “implementing tailored strategies to reduce the backlog of cases,” the release stated.
As a result of DCS improvements, inactive “backlog” cases plummeted from 16,014 in March 2015 to 3,470 in November 2016, a 78 percent reduction. Today, the backlog of inactive cases is 1,688.
DCS also reduced the total number of open reports from a high of 33,245 in April 2015 to 10,536 in November 2016, a 68 percent decrease. Today there are only 7,888 open reports, the release stated.
“With the backlog nearing its conclusion, many positive outcomes have surfaced,” said DCS Director Greg McKay, in the press release. “A faster response to protect children; more time to assess and investigate; manageable caseloads; fewer children being removed from their homes; and less staff turnover.”
The report also underscored the improvements made to DCS’s hotline.
DCS has taken significant steps to improve standardization of its call-screening by implementing a new decision-making guide, which contains detailed explanations, clarified definitions and classifies various types of harm.
A dedicated audit staff has also been placed at the hotline to further ensure quality and standardization.
As of October 2016, the Department had filled 1,341 DCS Specialist positions out of 1,406 appropriated full-time positions.
Over 1,600 families in Maricopa County have accessed the Building Resilient Families program. Building Resilient Families is a community-based intervention program for children and families reported to DCS where the children have been assessed as safe and the family presents with low levels of risk.
In fiscal year 2016, 4,625 families were served by the Healthy Families Arizona program, which DCS uses to help prevent child abuse and neglect, and avoid the potential for children being brought into foster care.
“We appreciate the work of our Legislature, the Auditor General, and Chapin Hall in supporting these needed reforms that have clearly taken flight; there is still much to do but please take a moment and thank a DCS employee, they deserve the credit,” Mr. McKay stated in the release.
Arizona Department Of Child Safety Clears Inactive Case Backlog
Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday, March 16 the Arizona Department of Child Safety has officially cleared the backlog of inactive cases that impeded the state’s ability to attempt to improve vulnerable children’s lives.
In March 2015, DCS was plagued by more than 16,000 backlogged cases. Today, that number has reached an all-time low and is now below the legislative-set benchmark of 1,000 cases, according to a press release.
“Arizona has accomplished what once appeared to be an insurmountable task thanks to the hardworking men and women at the Department of Child Safety,” Gov. Ducey said in a release.
“But our work is far from done, and we cannot lose sight of the work that remains and the many children we must protect. By reducing this backlog, DCS can now devote even more attention to protecting Arizona’s most vulnerable children and keeping families intact. This is about the lives of children in our state, who need our help. If we don’t help them, no one else will.”
Over the past two years, DCS has tailored its efforts to reduce the case backlog, including bringing back three retired DCS employees to work exclusively on inactive cases, hiring outside contractors, incentivizing employees to work inactive cases and streamlining oversight and case transfer processes, a release states.
As a result, the decreased backlog helped to improve response times on abuse allegations, lower caseloads for workers, and allow more time for DCS workers to assess and investigate cases. All of these changes have contributed to fewer children in out-of-home care.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of DCS staff, we have reached this monumental goal by persevering and working together,” DCS Director Greg McKay said in a release. “I want to thank all DCS staff for the sacrifices they have made for this to become a reality and for the sacrifices they make every day serving Arizona’s children and families.”
There are currently about 17,200 children in out-of-home care, down from 19,044 children in February 2016, according to a press release. Arizona’s legislature set the backlog benchmark for DCS during last year’s session.
“This significant milestone shows what can be accomplished when we work together to protect Arizona’s children,” Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said in a release. “I would like to thank frontline DCS workers and the director for their hard work as well as my colleagues for passing legislation to support this progress.”
DCS met the benchmark four months before the July 2017 deadline.
“When Sen. Lesko and I crafted this legislation with help from DCS Director McKay, this was the outcome we were hoping for,” Rep. John M. Allen, R-Phoenix, said in a release.
“Although the department and state still face many challenges of providing struggling families with the help they need or moving children to safe and more permanent situations, it is still gratifying that this effort has succeeded.”
A case is classified as “inactive” if no documentation has been entered for more than 60 days or if services were not provided.
Due to the length of time that some of the more complicated cases require, there will always be cases that exceed 60 days in our system, which is why the legislature set DCS’s inactive benchmark at under 1,000 cases.