Foster care experts put their heads, hearts together

Mike Faust (at podium), Director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, asks for solutions to foster care challenges from panelists, including Dr. Julie Orme (left).

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

Arizona first lady Angela Ducey welcomed child welfare professionals from across the state to Thursday’s Foster Care Summit at Grand Canyon University by succinctly summarizing one of the themes of the morning event.

“The state does not make good parents,” Ducey said.

Arizona first lady Angela Ducey has focused attention on the needs of children in foster care.

One of the goals outlined Thursday by Mike Faust, Director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety, is to increase the percentage of youth in state care who are placed with kin because research shows it leads to better outcomes.

Of 12,700 youth in care in Arizona, 55% reside with a kinship caregiver, and his goal is 65-70%.

“To accomplish these goals, we need your help, and that’s why you are here today,” Ducey said. “Each of you have a heart for the work.”

Faust said his office is working to standardize caregiver selection criteria and reduce barriers to licensing for kin. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has joined wife Angela in making foster care issues a priority, has offered budget recommendations to increase the monthly stipend for kinship care.

The summit addressed the challenges and solutions toward those goals, connected more than 70 professionals from Arizona nonprofits, churches and government agencies to resources statewide and explored how to give children who age out of foster care support in their journey to adulthood.

GCU has been a partner in the cause by hosting the summit and creating its Fostering Futures Scholarships, a first-of-its-kind partnership with DCS that will give full-ride scholarships to Arizona children who age out of foster care.

Director of Arizona Department of Child Safety Mike Faust urged the group to find solutions to the challenges in foster care.

Faust told the group he was approached by GCU President Brian Mueller at the announcement of the scholarships in February and was asked how many they could get signed up for this scholarship.

“This cat just signed up for like 120 grand for each kid and had no clue how many kids he was going to serve. It was irrelevant to him, he didn’t care, because he has a heart for serving,” Faust said. “And that heart for serving exists in this room.”

It was unusual for so many organizations who provide everything from tiny homes to toothpaste for children in need to come together. But part of GCU’s vision is centered on outreach and connecting people, said Dr. Kathleen Downey, Assistant Dean of Behavioral Health in GCU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“These are people who are working in the field, they know what the needs in the foster community and they are here to problem solve, to get creative and link resources to families,” she said. “We as a University want to be a part of that solution, not just be on the outskirts of it.”

Several breakout sessions offered ideas and connected professionals.

Dr. Carlton Huff leads one of three breakout sessions.

In a session led by Dr. Carlton Huff, a GCU professor who grew up in foster care, he encouraged the professionals to build their social capital by building relationships.

It unfolded right before his eyes.

Linda Dodds of Cuddle Outreach, which supplies wellness kits and other assistance to abused children, said that her work near Page, Arizona, is often isolated from what happens in the population centers to the south. She sat next to a man with another nonprofit who offered assistance.

“He is going to help put together a career summit for the kids,” she said. “This has been so worth it.”

Bringing the resources together is key but can be a challenge when trying to help a family or another agency.

“So by default we look down and ask, ‘What do you need? And they say, ‘I don’t know, what do you have?’” Faust said. “I don’t know what we have, either.”

On Thursday, they were finding out from each other. They also brainstormed ideas for social media channels or web pages that could make it easier to find those resources.

Another goal addressed in the summit was to find ways to support organizations and families caring for children who can’t return to kin.

Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, told the group he honors them for caring not just for the immediate needs of children but for nurturing love and trust, for "care of the whole person."

GCU alumnus Isaiah Gomez said the summit helped him connect to what many providers can offer.

From his time doing student outreach at GCU in 2014 to today’s role as Community Engagement Manager for Ohana Family Homes, he has seen the value of giving the 45 children in the organization’s Phoenix group home a sense of normalcy and hope. For example, he brings the group to GCU once a week to be part of the campus experience.

While keeping youth with relatives or family is a worthy goal, Gomez said, not all thrive in environments that can be toxic.

“Obviously, it’s case by case,” he said. “I don’t think the state is the best parent, but if we can invest more into things that are working and helping providers, that is going to be the best situation for youth.”

Another GCU alum – from the class of 1976 – wrapped up the summit with a speech that brought many in attendance to their feet.

Dr. Carlian Dawson, board member of Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, said money can’t solve all problems. Organizations also need to see the needs of minority populations. Diversity on the boards and in leadership will help make a difference, especially for African American children who, she said, can be inappropriately placed in group settings.

“Go to the community, learn the community, understand the community, talk with the children and include people with lived experiences on your board,” she said. “They can help you understand what these children need. So it’s time to do a shakeup. Go where you have never gone before.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU unveils scholarships for Arizona foster children

GCU Today: Stress melts away to joy for SIS scholarship winners

GCU Today: First-generation graduates show their gratitude


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