Orphan Crisis in Arizona
March 4, 2015
The purpose of this event was to learn about the orphan crisis that exists in our state. We heard from a panel of experts who are actively involved with this issue on both the state and local levels. You can watch the entire night below.
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Executive Director of Foster Care Initiatives
Dennae Pierre is the founder and Executive Director of Foster Care Initiatives. Dennae and her husband,Vermon, have four children (Marcel, Mya, Judah, and Jovanna) and have been foster parents since 2009. Dennae is passionate about seeing the body of Christ engage in Arizona’s child welfare challenges and loves teaching about God’s concern for the vulnerable.
Dennae is a part of Roosevelt Community Church where her husband is the lead pastor. Through Roosevelt, she has been blessed to see how local church communities can provide rich support and empower families to foster and adopt. She has also been able to see how local churches can prevent child welfare involvement by wrapping around families in crisis. This experience has been instrumental in fueling her desire to see churches mobilized to care for Arizona’s vulnerable children and families.
One of Dennae’s favorite passages that fuels the work she does is Romans chapter 12. The beginning and end powerfully sum up what the entire chapter represents to her: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (v.1)…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v. 21).”
President & Founder of OCJ Kids
Gary is the President and founder of a youth non-profit organization, OCJ Kids (Opportunity, Community, and Justice for Kids). OCJ Kids currently reaches out to over 17,000 foster children in the State of Arizona through in home mentor visits, combined celebration events, field trips, and Transition Success Centers. OCJ has been serving at-risk and foster care children and youth in Arizona since 1996.
Gary published his first book in October of 2009 entitled 150 Ways to Connect. This book provides insight into the world of foster care and the many opportunities the local communities have to connect with foster children and youth across the state of Arizona. Gary second book, “Connecting with the Faceless Generation” was released in April of 2013.
Gary served on the planning committee for the Arizona’s annual Faith Summit for Foster Care and Adoption at the State Capitol for three years. He also served on the Governors Council for After School Services. Gary currently serves as a committee member on the Assemblies of God US Missions National Office Compassion Care Council.
Gary and Tammie are currently U.S. Missionaries through the Assemblies of God. This appointment has opened the door to reproduce the Fostering Connection model throughout Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Executive Director of Hope Women’s Center
Tammy Abernethy joined Hope Women's Center as the Executive Director in 2013. Prior to that time she served as Executive Director of Steps of Faith, a ministry to women and families facing unplanned pregnancy, which merged with Hope Women's Center in 2013.
Tammy obtained her Bachelors Degree in Political Science & Economics, and spent many years working in both corporate & non-profit administration, including several years serving internationally. A single mother for more than 15 years, Tammy understands the fears, insecurities, and hopelessness that parenting in crisis can bring. While she has been blessed to parent within a community of friends, family, and faith, her heart was burdened for women & families that were doing this alone – without community. healing from painful relationships, or an understanding of resources available to help.
Tammy is passionate about the mission of Hope Women's Center in ministering to women and teens facing any difficult life situation (unplanned pregnancy, abuse, domestic violence, single parenting, poverty, etc) to engage, to encourage, to equip, to love unconditionally, and to give them the tools to make positive life changes - a transformation from the inside out.
Tammy and her family attend Camelback Bible Church. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her two children, serving in the women's ministry at her church, reading, cooking, and hiking in our beautiful Arizona desert.
Executive Director of Helen’s Hope Chest
T. Dan Wollam has been the President/CEO of Mesa United Way since 2010. Immediately prior to this current responsibility, Dan had served Mesa United Way as its Vice President for Community Solutions since 2008 and had been Executive Director of River Cities United Way (Mohave and La Paz counties, Arizona) since 2006.
He has had a career of more than 45 years in the administration of nonprofit services and higher education, including service as the executive director of two community action agencies, vice president for administration of a graduate school, and as executive director of a county economic development agency.
He and his wife, Linda, spent more than 20 years as foster parents for 13 children (in addition to two of their own) and sponsored 4 refugee families from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
Understanding the Crisis
by Dennae Pierre
Understanding Arizona’s child welfare crisis is complicated. The complexity of how we came to have over 15,000 children in our state’s foster care system often causes many to avoid thinking about what can be done to really affect systemic change.
Arizona is ranked one of the five worst states in the nation when it comes to child welfare. We could fill this article with numbers and statistics (we will share a few), but we want to give you more than numbers. It is important is that your heart and mind truly understand what is happening in Arizona.
Since 2010, Arizona has had a 40% increase of children entering the foster care system. There were so many calls flooding into the child abuse hotline in 2012 that CPS accrued a backlog of 10,000 child abuse reports, most of which went without investigation due to a lack of CPS resources. This means that children being abused or severely neglected were suffering and no one came to help.
As Arizona’s numbers of children in foster care have swelled from 9,000 to over 14,000, we find ourselves asking the question: Why? Why such an increase? Poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence all contribute to children needing to abruptly leave their home and family. As the recession devastated Arizona’s economy, the State faced many budget shortfalls. Many important safety nets were cut for Arizona families, and social services became overburdened by the mass of families needing support.
This created a second problem. With the system overburdened by children who were abused, abandoned, or neglected, there was now a shortage of foster families. Four years ago, most children who were removed by child protective services could be placed with relatives or foster families. Now, with an insufficient amount of foster homes, there are currently over 2,000 children living in group homes and shelters. Group homes provide a bed for a child, but they do not provide a setting for a child to be nurtured, to heal, and to grow.
Permanency for Foster Children
The problem does not end with a lack of foster homes. Once children are in foster care, they need a permanent solution. Permanency can happen two different ways: through reunification or adoption (see illustration below for visual).
Reunification is what the government calls the process in which a biological parent is able to show stability and safety in order to reunite with their child. Reunification is impacted by our state’s crisis. Less services, slower services, lack of resources, and many other deficiencies make reunification a great challenge. Nationwide, parents who have had their children removed from their home struggle to overcome substance abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. Why does Arizona lack opportunities that have proven effective to improve reunification efforts in other states? Much more can be done if we want to see children reunited with their biological parents when it is safe and possible to do so.
Once the state decides reunification is not an option for a biological parent, a judge severs the parent’s rights to their children. At that point, reunification is never again an option for that parent, and the government begins the search for an adoptive home for the child in question. Many times, a relative – in state or out of state – is found to adopt the child; other times, foster parents are able to adopt their foster children. When relatives and foster parents are unable or unwilling to adopt, a new family is sought to adopt these children.
Currently, Arizona has over 600 children who fit in this category, needing adoptive homes right now. A vast amount of these children will languish in the system for years, and many are much older than what most adoptive families are seeking to adopt. These children may bounce from foster family to foster family, end up in a group home, and then reach their 18th birthday without a forever family to call their own. At the age of 18, foster teens who are not adopted “age out” of the system.
When Permanency Can’t Happen
This creates our state’s final problem: hundreds of foster youth turn 18 each year and transition to adulthood alone. Foster children who age out of foster care without a family are 3x less likely to graduate high school, 10x less likely to go to college, 2.5x more likely to be a teen parent, 7x more likely to be incarcerated, and 4x more likely to be unable to pay rent.
This is not because foster youth are more dangerous than the average teenager. These statistics are so high because aging out youth do not have the support system in place or family structure to properly transition into adulthood.
These are more than numbers; these are real children and real families who are broken and devastated by abuse, poverty, and addiction.
Overwhelmed? Sometimes a problem seems so massive, so deeply rooted, that the entire system seems infected by brokenness and hopelessness. While this is a massive and systemic crisis, it is not unsolvable. In fact, there is a role for every Arizona resident to play. Some roles will be life changing and time consuming, while other roles will be simple additions to the life we already live. There is a spot for each of us at the table when it comes to creating fundamental solutions. Learn more about how you can engage in this child welfare crisis.
A process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person’s biological or legal parent or parents, and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents.
When a child turns 18 and is no longer supported by the foster care system.
Area Project Manager
A type of social worker who is employed by a government agency, non-profit organization, or other group to take on the cases of individuals and provide them with advocacy, information or other services.
This is another term for a group home or treatment center.
Child Protective Services
Department of Child Safety
The legal term that refers to the recognized legal status of the relationship between family members, or more specifically the legal relationship between parent and child.
A system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver referred to as a “foster parent”.
Foster Home / Foster Family
A family environment for the temporary placement of an orphan.
An environment for orphans that is usually located in a renovated residence with other orphans that is monitored by employees.
A known person (not always necessarily a blood relative).
A minor whose mother has died.
A minor bereft through “death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents”. In the common use, an orphan does not have any surviving parent to care for him or her.
A minor whose father has died.
The possibility of being able to restore the biological family of an orphan.
Rights are Severed
When the parental rights to a child are cut off and the parent no longer retains the right to their child.
There are two types of shelters. The first is a safehouse serving those without a home. The second is a temporary residence for children who are currently in process regarding their placement.
Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting
by Johnny Carr
Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace
by Harvie Conn
When Helping Hurts
by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches
by Russell D. Moore & C.J. Mahaney
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