What's it like for children sleeping in CPS' office?
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Jul. 24, 2012 - UPDATED: Jul. 25, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The state agency that says it doesn't have enough homes for Pima County children is answering questions about its practice of having those kids sleep overnight in its office.
Since KGUN9 News' report last week on children staying at Child Protective Service's Tucson office, KGUN9 and its viewers wanted to know more. On Tuesday, KGUN9 got answers and word from CPS that it may change its practice.
CPS agreed to answer follow-up questions from KGUN9 News submitted in writing. The agency answered every one and also some follow-up questions, revealing what conditions these children sleep in.
Flora Sotomayor of CPS said it's been two weeks since children last slept in one of the agency’s Tucson buildings. She said six to eight kids stayed for one or two nights.
Sotomayor, the acting program manager for Pima County, said when this happens, the children sleep in conference rooms on cots or air mattresses, separated by age and supervised by staff. They shower at a group home or shelter. In the office, she said there's a refrigerator, microwave and "no one goes hungry."
Sotomayor said no children have had to sleep in the building in weeks not because there are more foster homes, but because enough existing spots in families have opened up.
“There's a movement. Children go home; it opens up a slot,” Sotomayor told KGUN9 reporter Kevin Keen over the phone. “Someone who's taken out for a short time is returned home."
But the need could arise again, Sotomayor said.
Keen asked her, “Is letting the children stay in a hotel instead of the CPS office a possibility?” “It is a possibility,” Sotomayor answered. “I'm not sure that that really is a good option either because in a hotel, it's not as secure as our offices are.”
“We have talked about it, but we haven't done anything at this point because we haven't had a need again,” Sotomayor added. Keen asked, “Is that something you'd look at for the future?” “We talked about it, yes,” she replied.
The agency also said it wanted to make sure the public is clear on what has been going on.
“I'm concerned that the perception is that we have 10 or 12 kids every night and they're staying in these living conditions that aren't appropriate,’” said Ariz. Dept. of Economic Security spokeswoman Tasya Peterson. "It happens but it's not regular. We get them out of harm's way.” She added the situation is safe for the children.
Peterson also wanted people to direct their attention and concerns on what CPS calls the root problem: there aren't enough foster parents in Pima County. If you're interested in learning how to help, visit the state’s foster care and adoption Web site. KGUN9 focused on the foster family shortage earlier Tuesday.
Keen asked Sotomayor: “We've heard from a number of viewers who find it hard to understand how this is necessary. Do you understand that concern?”
“I do,” she said. “I understand the concern about why this would be necessary. Unfortunately, the viewers themselves might not be familiar enough with the system to understand that we don't always have the resources--that we are emboldened to others for the resources. In other words, unless families are interested in becoming foster parents, we wouldn't have foster parents.”
Read KGUN9's inital report on the foster care system crisis as well as a follow-up report on whether children sleeping in the office is even legal.