Shaquita Ogletree
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) discussed policies to protect children and treat parents recently implemented in his state recently. At a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Governor described the Opioid Epidemic Act. It has several provisions to reform child welfare including ensuring the court system moves faster with a termination of parental rights (TPR).

In Arizona, 15,000 children are in out-of-home placements while 800 people have lost their lives to opioids, and 4,000 newborns were born substance exposed. In 2018, policymakers called for a Special Session to focus on prevention and treatment efforts in the state. They dedicated $10 million to addiction treatment and concentrate on prescribers and access to treatment. Arizona’s Substance Exposed Newborns Safe Environment (SENSE) Program is intended to prevent children from entering the child welfare system and with support for in-home services and children remaining in the home while parents receive treatment. According to the presentation, the SENSE program outcomes include 90% of families with no child welfare report after completion of service.

Governor Ducey has committed resources to the child welfare workforce, where the caseloads have recently decreased for workers. He went on to say that it is clear that the child welfare system is in more help from communities and faith-based organizations. The number one priority of the department is providing a safe home for children.

His remarks were followed by a panel that included Elizabeth Bartholet, Harvard Law School, Robin Ghertner, HHS, Brandon J. Logan, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Sally Satel, AEI, and Naomi Schaefer Riley, AEI. Much of the panel discussion seemed to focus on individual preferences in how to address the rising numbers of children in foster care.

Mr. Ghertner lays out the challenges and opportunities to change the course of the opioid epidemic. The challenge of this opioid epidemic is accessing treatment, lack of quality treatment, linking parents to the right treatment, and failures across system collaborations. The opportunities are the level of awareness and understanding of addiction and the opioid crisis by many systems. Promising evidence-based practices in many states and communities and more funding are also opportunities to combat the opioid epidemic.

Brandon Logan disagreed with earlier comments regarding Governor Ducey’s legislation to lead with adoption stating that this is not the only solution. The answer is on the front end of keeping children with their families. He shared that in Texas, children are 19 times more likely to be abused in foster care. He added that the recent tragedy in California where a woman drove her family off the cliff included adoptive children from the state of Texas. Focusing services on women, especially pregnant women, and expanding opportunities for parents to get children back should be the top priority for states and the system.

Ms. Bartholet, longtime adoption advocate, stated that 70-90% of parents in foster care have a drug or alcohol abuse problem. She recommended that states need leaders who will propose child-friendly legislation like Arizona that focuses on early intervention for a child, permanency within a year, and expediting TPR in egregious circumstances. Ms. Bartholet opposes the Family First Prevention Services Act because it is not child-friendly and the issues with evidence-based practices. Mr. Ghertner agreed that we need more evidence-based practices and research on medicated assisted treatment and child welfare outcomes.