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Dec 6, 2012 12:46 AM by Rebecca Taylor

Services for foster kids on the chopping block

TUCSON - Just announced money trouble within Arizona's Child Protective Services is about to cripple the very agencies that help parents reunite with their children.

Those parents have to complete a program to get their kids back, but without visitation they can't. The kids will remain in state custody.

Casa de los Niños is one of 11 agencies in Pima County that help families get back together.

Throughout our filming, the word most used to describe these cuts: devastating.

It's feeding time for these infants and this newborn, less than a month old.

For now they live at the Casa de los Niños shelter.

While their parents work to get their lives back on track, they're given court ordered visitation.

Executive Director Susie Huhn says, "unfortunately if there's not services to support families in getting back together, those kids will stay in a foster care system."

Every day Robbie Bush, a case worker sees what visits mean to both parents and children.

"Visits I would say are key, just keeping up their moral," says Bush.

"Everything that's here is all about the kids," describes Bob Heslinga, Executive Director of AVIVA while giving a tour of the facility.

Visitation is the sole service they're funded to provide. Cuts by CPS will affect their ability to operate.

"When we asked what should we do, they said to immediately stop what you're doing and refer your cases to a case manager," he says.

Knowing Arizona's child protection system is overburdened as is, News 4 reached out to CPS. They say the Division of Children Youth and Families is not experiencing budget cuts for Parent Aide services, rather:

"DCYF is experiencing incredible volume and growth in service needs. As a result, we must carefully manage our expenditures to meet these new needs with our existing resources," said Tasya Peterson with the Arizona Department of Economic Security in a statement.

Huhn says, "if kids don't have connections to their families and visitation it's devastating for the kids we care for."

News 4 Tucson's Rebecca Taylor asks, "and in turn can that effect tax payers in Pima County?"

"Sure because we're going to end up paying for these kids to be in our system and in our care for longer periods of time," answers Huhn.

Heslinga adds, "but here's the other part of this Rebecca, the fact that who's speaking for those families? Who's speaking on behalf of those kids are waiting to see their parents?"

So far, no plans for future funding are being considered.

Local agencies say it's a loss all the way around, because staff may also be cut.

Here's is the full statement from CPS:

"The Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has not experienced a reduction in Children Support Services budget allocations which includes funding for parent aide services; however, DCYF is experiencing incredible volume and growth in service needs. As a result, we must carefully manage our expenditures to meet these new needs with our existing resources.

Therefore, the Division recently reminded staff to thoughtfully assess when services will be beneficial to families.

In addition, DCYF Regional Program Managers are working with its staff, providers, and the families it serves to ensure appropriate referrals for services are made based on the current engagement with the family and their readiness for change.

That said, both community partners and Child Protective Services staff continue to request and be provided Parent Aide Services to meet the needs of the families who CPS works with as well as Court orders for visitation and Parent Aide."

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