Abandoned, Neglected Children Can’T Find Homes In Rim Country

Foster families lack in Gila County has turned crisis into routine even for younger children

Hard Times in High Country

Hard Times in High Country

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Cindy Paul, a licensing agent for Arizona’s Children Association, has no foster homes in Pine or Strawberry, especially for teens.

“We got a call from Tucson that 11 children would sleep in their office that night if they could not find homes,” said Paul. She had no homes to help.

Penny Stonebrink, a licensing agent for Arizona Partnership for Children, could not find a bed in the region for a 15-year-old girl. More disturbing, she recently has had trouble placing younger children who traditionally find homes easily.

“I think it’s a crisis when I’m making calls at 2 a.m. for a 6-year-old who is usually easy to place,” said Stonebrink.

She said Arizona has about 12,000 children currently in the foster care system.

The two women recruit, train and support foster families in this Eastern Central Arizona foster family district.

Paul just started working in the Rim Country this past year after retiring from teaching in the Valley. Stonebrink has worked as a licensing agent in the area since 2009.

Paul said working with children was a calling for her.

In the Valley, she worked with the Los Niños area of the Guadalupe Ministry in Ahwatukee, a suburb of Phoenix There, she had her first exposure to a foster care situation and started thinking about fostering.

After raising her four children and retiring from teaching elementary school, she moved to the Rim Country to foster children. However, the licensing agent for the area moved to Denver, opening up the position Paul now holds.

Stonebrink fostered children in the Rim Country starting in 2004. She said she and her family have hosted more than 40 children. She took on the role of licensing agent in 2009 after adopting two of the children she fostered.

Stonebrink said the availability of families in the Rim Country has ebbed and flowed over time.

“It takes about three months on a good, quick qualification,” she said.

Foster families must go through a background check, fingerprint verification, prove they have a bed and dresser for a child and take weeks of classes.

Paul said studies show that from the moment a person decides to commit to becoming a foster parent to hosting a child in their home, it takes two years.

“It is a commitment. If you’re in the middle of raising kids and already doing what you do — just imagine incorporating another kid into your life,” she said.

That is why Paul is grateful her organization will accept people outside of the traditional family.

“Foster families are not given credit for what they do,” said Stonebrink. “Many people think its about the money, but it ends up working out to 83 cents per hour.”

Paul said there are different levels of commitment, if a family does not have the time or resources to house a child. They can have a child over for dinner or spend time with them to mentor them on how a healthy, caring family functions.

The toughest challenge with fostering, said both women, is keeping the ties with the biological family.

“The foster family must respect the biological family, regardless of the issues,” said Paul. “CPS’s (Child Protective Service) goal is reunification.”

Sometimes a family has a child overnight; sometimes a child can stay for years. “It’s difficult not to get attached,” said Paul, “but it’s a service, a warm bed, a meal and school. The goal is to find stability for that child.”

That is why removing children from the Rim Country due to a lack of beds creates more upheaval in a child’s life than the removal from the home causes in the first place.

Because of the lack of homes, both Stonebrink and Paul have had to place children to areas hours away from that child’s home.

“The CPS agent gets upset when I say, ‘I know it’s 2 in the morning, but I can only find a home that’s three hours away.’ They tell me, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” said Stonebrink.

Being hours away from the home wreaks havoc with the relationship a child has with their biological family, said Paul.

Between CPS and the foster family, the two groups strive to keep the child in touch with parents and extended family, but that can prove impossible with the various appointments foster children have with court-appointed advocates, psychologists, doctors and dentists, said Paul. If a multiple-hour drive gets tossed into the mix, the family relationship suffers.

Yet, Stonebrink said there are many rewards to fostering a child. “You may never know what you have done. Whatever you give to them, hopefully they take something forward whether they are 1 or 14,” she said.

For more information, or to help out, please contact Cindy Paul at (928) 970-2356 or Penny Stonebrink at (928) 970-0818.

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