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Arizona foster care bill protects drug-exposed infants and the best interests of children
SB1473, enacted into law on August 3, 2018, amended Arizona’s child welfare statutes in important ways. The legislature adopted these changes in an 87:1 vote, demonstrating the strong consensus behind the spirit and letter of the reforms.
This memo outlines the changes in an effort to assist with the uniform application of these new laws in juvenile dependency actions.
Under the law:
- Recognizing that stability and family are critical to a child’s well-being, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) must work to find permanent homes for children under three years of age within one year;
- Because family is a priority, DCS must search diligently for relatives when a child is taken into custody;
- The law creates a presumption that foster families who have cared for an infant for nine months or more are kin. If, after nine months, a party wants to move an infant to another relation or placement, the change of placement must be in the infant’s best interest;
- Agencies and individuals involved in placement decisions must place the child’s best interests at the forefront;In all child welfare cases, DCS must check for the presence of “aggravating circumstances” or extreme abuse. When aggravating circumstances exist, the department must present the findings to the judge in the dependency action and petition to terminate parental rights;
- Non-medical, in utero drug-exposure is an aggravated circumstance in certain situations of chronic substance abuse.