Friday, November 16, 2012

Is this legal? Kids staying overnight in CPS offices

Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Is this even legal? The Arizona Child Protective Service is so short of foster homes, CPS workers are letting kids spend the night in their offices.
It's sad-- but some good news could come from it.
If a private agency consistently lets people sleep there overnight, it has to live up to zoning laws and safety standards. 
But what about a state agency like Child Protective Services where children are spending the night.
The answer is, CPS has immunity because it's a state agency conducting state business. It's also stuck in a bind.  To keep kids safe, case workers have decided to remove kids from possibly dangerous homes but a shortage of foster homes has workers improvising ways to keep kids in their offices.
So many kids need emergency foster care that CPS can't always find a child a foster home on short notice. They're putting kids up overnight in CPS offices, for safety, the agency does not what to say which offices. We're not giving precise locations.
Thursday, acting local director Flora Sotomayor told KGUN9's Jessica Chapin CPS workers are being generous with their own money and time to make the kids comfortable.
"We are doing our absolute best to make sure they're safe, to make sure they're fed.  The agencies, shelters, group homes, offered to allow us to use their showers."
Casa De Los Ninos works to place kids in foster homes.  It understands CPS does not have much choice right now. Assistant foster home director Sandy Walters knows a regular foster home has strict standards for health, safety and comfort.
"They have to have a bed, a dresser, for each child and there are parameters around ages of children who can be in the same room."
Three years ago the City of Tucson found a charity called the Giving Tree was routinely letting people sleep overnight, without proper permits and safety precautions.  The city shut down the overnight stays.
City attorney Mike Rankin says state agencies, in state owned buildings are immune from city enforcement.  The situation's more gray if the buildings are leased.
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked Rankin: "Is this the sort of thing where there might be potential for enforcement action by the city or an attempt at it? 
Rankin:"I don't think so.Our zoning enforcement is complaint driven and to my knowledge we haven't received any about this or similar issues."
Property records do show four of the local CPS offices are leased, not owned by the state. We were unable to reach the local CPS director Monday for more detail on sleeping arrangements for the kids while they're in the office.
The good news is this issue can get more people willing to be foster parents? Lots of people are already calling Casa De Los Ninos offering to become foster parents. That's something to help months from now.  They have to be careful with screening and training so it can be six months before a foster parent is ready to take in a child.

To learn more, click here, or call 1-877-KIDS-NEED-U.

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