There are a mere 14 foster parents in the Rim Country to serve the approximately 75 to 100 cases in out-of-home foster placement at any given time, according to Child Protective Services. Arizona placed 9,536 children in foster homes from April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2005.
"The need for foster-care families is great," said Patti Frye, a foster-care specialist with Catholic Community Services. "Arizona places more children in group homes and shelters than any other state."
She estimated that two area foster-care homes have been lost in the last year because the people moved away.
Frye's role is guiding and supporting foster parents, and she rotates through CPS's call list for critical foster parent placement.
The process of matching foster parent to child is more than just saying, "here is a home, put a child in it."
Foster parents are licensed for a particular age group. They can choose gender(s). They can specify the number of children they feel they can handle.
Most foster parents are specific about the level of need they feel they can address with the children coming into their homes.
For instance, a teen might be disruptive to a particular family, and the child would have to be moved again. That would cause added problems for a child who already had to deal with other issues.
"Moving is very difficult on children," said single foster parent Carolyn Werner. "Think of yourself. How would you like to pick up every five or six months and move to a new house? It's not a pleasant feeling, is it? It's awful. Now think of being a little kid and being a captive audience. (Providing stability) is one of the reasons I foster."
"I always foster teenage boys," said Werner.
Foster children are allowed to share rooms with each other and/or other children in the family.
She likes to put three boys to a room because there is always someone who will inform on the others.
"Two can have a secret, but three? One says, ‘Oh, I've got to tell somebody,'" Werner said.
She is also a local Child Protective Services caseworker who works with parents and their children while those children are still living at home.
Werner said that for her it is not tough seeing children go back to their natural families.
"I have been doing this for enough years. I've fostered kids in my house, and I saw where they went when they turned of age. They went home.
"I've never criticized any parents. I've never put any parents down. I did what I could for the kids. If the kids came back and needed help, I helped them out."
"When former foster children have come back to my home with a duffel bag, because I had this huge house and a pantry that went from floor to ceiling, saying they needed groceries, I'd say, ‘Come on, let's go get them.'"
If there were medical insurance for foster parents, Werner said she would foster children until she drops dead because she loves taking care of children.
The initial step for those interested in becoming foster parents is to contact Frye at (928) 970-0058 for more information, or Devereux, a child welfare organization, at 800-345-1292 for a screening phone call. Devereux provides the intake component. Questions include what kind of child the family is interested in and why they are interested in becoming foster parents.
"Sometimes after that initial conversation prospective foster parents may say, ‘This is not really what I thought it would be,' lose interest and not sign up for the training," said Frye.
The next requirement for licensing is for every adult who will be living in the foster home to take 24 hours of training.
CPS invites and encourages foster parents to participate in court hearings and foster-care reviews. Parents will share information about the child with case managers and other service providers.
Foster parents are reimbursed by the state for basic care, clothing and diapers, if necessary. Unlicensed kinship foster care is reimbursed at a different rate than those who are licensed.
Most children in foster care are covered under the state's Comprehensive Medical and Dental Program.
A child's CPS caseworker is her main resource if she is unhappy with placement, unless a court-appointed special advocate has been assigned to her case.
Adoption of a foster child occurs only after the state feels that everything possible has been done to reunite the family, Werner said. The question of the state stepping in soon enough is a hard issue to deal with.
"Every family is different and every child is different," said Werner. "(The state) needs to be as careful as it can with that because kids like their families, and breaking the tie that binds is a tough legal issue. Even after jumping through all the legal hoops, at the last hour, someone might appear that could be the one person case workers missed."
Werner said she hopes to adopt the child she is currently fostering.