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May 25, 2014 1:33 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Family takes child welfare crisis into own hands

TUCSON - Steve and Nancy Boccardo think they have taken in about 50 foster children over the years.

"We were trying to figure out a count the other day and didn't quite get there," Steve Boccardo said. "We know we've done 14 in the last couple."

Some children have stayed in their home for 24 hours. Others stay a couple years. The Boccardos adopted four. They say the fosters are just like their two biological children.

"The kiddos are just regular kids that need love," Nancy Boccardo said. "And they need a structured loving home and a place to lay their head until their families are healed."

About 3,400 children in Pima County are in foster care across 700 homes. There are 14,000 foster children in the state of Arizona.

The Boccardos grow attached to the children but are happy to see them go back to their families.

"It's sad. It's bittersweet," Nancy Boccardo said. "But kids want to be at home with their biological families."

The Arizona legislature is starting a special session Tuesday. Lawmakers hope to solve some of the problems the state's child welfare agency has been facing.

Rep. Ethan Orr believes the session will only last 3 days and will deal with 3 main issues.

He wants the state to offer a childcare subsidy to families that are trying to work and raise children.

"If you don't have some assistance, there's a tendency to fall back on the Section 8 or the TANF and the more expensive government subsidies," Orr said. "And then sometimes people don't have the ability to take care of the kids. And then they end up in the system."

He also wants CPS workers to have better access to data. Orr said a caseworker might not know if they are seeing a family with no CPS record or an extensive one. He also said access to data like animal abuse records could help workers see a bigger picture to analyze a situation.

Orr said the state needs to take better care of the employees. He said a high turnover rate is costing taxpayers money. He hopes to see new retention bonuses for workers who stay with the agency for certain amounts of time.

"They have to help families and see families when they're at their absolute worst," Orr said. "What kind of support do we give them when they go home? What kind of support do we give them so they don't get burned out?"

To become a foster parent, about a dozen agencies in Pima County help with the training and licensing of families. The Boccardos work with a nonprofit called Devereux. Potential foster parents can call 800-345-1292 or visit Devereux.org.

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