Arizona Had a Busy Legislative Year on Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice

Arizona legislators passed a number of bills related to children and youth that ultimately made it to Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) desk for a signature. The issues addressed by the legislature included child marriage, the opioid crisis and adoption costs.

Following is a breakdown of some of the new laws.

Parental Rights and Reunification

Senate Bill 1473 permits the state to file a petition to terminate parental rights within 10 days of removal under certain circumstances. It shortens the timeline a family has to work toward reunification if substance use is part of the equation and the child is an infant. It also allows the state to decline to offer reunification services to parents with substance use disorder or a history of addiction, or if a child younger than 6 months old has been exposed to substances.

The bill also recognizes prior foster parents as having a “significant relationship” with a child, placing such caregivers on the same level as kin when it comes to determining the best placement for a child.

Adoption Expenses

Senate Bill 1071 sets limits on adoption subsidies specifically related to the adoption of sibling groups. The state now has the option not to pay for nonrecurring adoption expenses under certain conditions, unless it determines there is “good cause” to pay those expenses. It also permits the state to not pay for an expense that’s more than nine months old.

From the bill: “The amount of nonrecurring adoption expenses paid by the department shall not exceed two thousand dollars for each adoption petition. Except if good cause exists as determined by the department, the department shall not pay nonrecurring adoption expenses for a child and all siblings or half-siblings who are adopted by the same parent or parents and whose parental rights were terminated within sixty days of each other, unless the child and all the siblings or half-siblings are on the same adoption petition.”

According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University, nonrecurring expenses might include court costs, attorney fees and other adoption fees.

A separate bill, SB 1166, adds “permanent guardians” to the list of caregivers eligible to apply for adoption subsidies.

Crimes Against Children

Under House Bill 2245, individuals who have committed certain types of crimes will not be eligible for bail. The list of crimes includes sexual conduct with, or molestation of, a minor when the victim was under the age of 13, or if the victim was 13 or 14 and the perpetrator was 10 or more years older than the victim.

Another bill, HB 2244, closes a loophole that previously allowed those being accused of crimes against children from using as a defense that their crime did not actually involve a minor because the minor in question was actually an adult posing as a minor. In some instances, such as child sex trafficking investigations, law enforcement may pose as minors.

New Data on Child Welfare Cases

Senate Bill 1518 adds a number of new data points for the state to report on, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Number of children receiving in-home and out-of-home care by region
  • Number of kinship and other foster homes
  • Number of spaces in those homes
  • Foster home attrition rates
  • Reasons for foster homes leaving the system
  • Substance abuse treatment offered to struggling parents, as well as the cost and outcomes of treatment.

The Department of Child Safety (DCS) will also be required to report out on more of its internal statistics, such as caseloads, the number of caseworkers by region, the number of supervisors and other workers, and turnover and attrition.

Preventing Transfers to Adult Court

House Bill 2356 enables the state’s juvenile justice system to hold older teenagers until age 19. Currently, the state can only hold a youth in juvenile facilities until age 18.

While the move seems like it would increase the amount of time youth can be incarcerated, advocates hope this will lower the number of 17-year-olds transferred into adult court. 

Transition-age Youth

Senate Bill 1380 aims to make the transition to adulthood easier by ensuring youth ages 16 and older get access to certain services and documents. It specifies that the provider (such as an agency or group home) work with youth on independent living programs that include “career, education and future development planning” to help the youth meet their program goals.

The bill also establishes a process for agencies to provide youth with social security cards, birth certificates and other documents at the youth’s request; it also defines a time limit by when such requests must be met. It waives any fees associated with providing these documents, and it authorizes DCS to provide caregivers with a child’s social security number within 90 days of their request.

Marriage of Minors

House Bill 2006 set age 16 as the minimum age for marriage, but only if one of two conditions apply: the minor has been legally emancipated, or a parent consents to the marriage. In either case, the prospective spouse can be no more than three years older than the minor.

College Tuition Waiver for Students in Foster Care

House Bill 2482 aimed to make a tuition waiver pilot program permanent for Arizona foster youth but the bill failed to make it to the governor’s desk, most likely due to a provision to lower the age of eligibility from 16 to 13 years old. If a youth spent even one day in foster care at age 13 or older, they would have been eligible for the program, which would put the state on the hook for tuition for significantly more students.

But the state’s budget reconciliation bill, SB 1527, did include a provision to make the tuition waiver permanent at the current 16-year-old eligibility threshold. Arizona joins a roster of at least 29 other states with tuition waiver programs for youth in foster care.

Tech Education for Native American Students

Senate Bill 1505 enacts a new program that teaches coding to Native American high school students. The law gives the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) $500,000 in one-time funding to establish a pilot program by working with grantees across the state to offer computer coding classes. ADE will report back to the legislature on the pilot’s progress in December 2019 and again in 2020.

State Agency Reporting

Arizona’s health care system, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), was scheduled to begin releasing quarterly accountability reports related to children in December 2018. SB 1397 pushes that date back to April 1, 2019, and revises the reporting frequency from quarterly to semi-annual.

The accountability reports focus specifically on behavioral health services for children, a topic of great relevance in the child welfare sphere. The state has been sued in part for its delays related to the delivery of such services for children in foster care.

The same bill delays the date at which DCS must start releasing quarterly accountability reports on the number of Medicaid-eligible children in foster care and related expenditures as well as behavioral health expenditures that are not paid for through Medicaid. DCS will be required to provide these reports from April 2019 through December 2020.

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 107 Articles
Tucson-based Southwest Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Follow @christiejrenick.

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