President Matt Ruppert introduced our speaker, Kayla Fulmer from the AZ Supreme Court Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) and the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. Ms. Fulmer has been with the Foster Care Review Board for two years.
The Need
Over the last five years, the number of children in out-of-home care in AZ has risen by 68%. Nationwide, AZ is ranked 46th in child welfare. As of September 2014, there were nearly 17,000 children in out-of-home care; today there are nearly 18,000 – enough to fill the Phoenix Fairgrounds stadium, with 3,000 children remaining to stand in the aisles. With the great number of children in foster care, it could be easy for a child to get lost in the overburdened child welfare system. The FCRB helps ensure this does not happen.
The Purpose
The FCRB started 35 years ago at the Supreme Court to act as a system of checks and balances for the Child Welfare System. The purpose of FCRB is: “To determine and advise the court on the efforts toward placing the child in a permanent home.” The goal, as often as possible is to reunite the child with the biological family, once parents have proven that they can provide a supportive, safe environment. Other times, a child will be adopted into a safe and loving home.
The FCRB promotes stability in child placement, but a recent report showed the number of times a child is placed in different homes to range from 1 to 43. Research shows that a child gets behind in school by 6 months for every new placement. The more times a child is moved, the less chance there is that he or she will complete high school and become a productive citizen.
Lastly, the FCRB assists in informing biological parents, foster parents, case managers and others of their rights and responsibilities regarding child and foster care.
The Job
The FCRB is designed to provide a neutral, non-biased review of the case of every child in out-of-home care a minimum of once each month. The Board members review all of the documents associated with a case, and hear statements from all interested parties. Their summary report, with findings and recommendations goes to the judge in the juvenile court.
There is at least one Board in every county in AZ. Each Board is responsible for 100 – 150 cases. Numbers have soared in Pinal County, and the FCRB is working to recruit volunteers to staff two new Boards. Each Board consists of five members, who review the same 10-13 cases each month, allowing them to track the progress of the children until they find permanency or age out of foster care. Currently, statewide, there are 138 Boards and more than 488 volunteers.
Qualifications for volunteers include:
  • Age 21 or older
  • Fingerprint background check
  • Available one week-day per month (6-8 hours)
  • 6-8 hour at-home prep time prior to each review
Each volunteer is appointed to a three-year term and must attend a new Board member orientation, followed by six hours of in-service training each year.
Q & A:
Why are the numbers increasing so much?
The main reason is because, in 2009, the State cut a lot of preventative services and supportive in-home services – things like child-care subsidies and substance abuse counseling. If these services had taken place early enough, the situation would not have developed to the point where the children had to be removed. Without those supports, child neglect occurs more frequently, and therefore, more children are coming into foster care.
What percentage of the children in out-of-home care graduate from high school?
A little less than half; then about 3% go on to graduate from college. (*Overall graduation rate in Arizona in 2013 as reported by the AZ Department of Education is 75.14 %.) Another recent statistic shows that 60% of the children who age out of foster care without permanent placement will be incarcerated within five years.
What kind of services are there available to foster children who age out?
There is a voluntary option for children to remain in foster care services until age 21, which makes assistance with tuition waivers, housing subsidies, and other such services available. More often than not, though, the older youth don’t want to stay in the system.