KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Phoenix foster care visitation center will lose security guard under DCS budget cuts

A Valley nonprofit that provides space for supervised visits between parents and children in the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s care says the state is cutting funding for its security guard, but the department says the service is not necessary.

Since 2017, DCS has paid for a security guard at the Arizonans for Children’s Phoenix location, which hosts court-ordered supervised visitations for parents, caseworkers and children. The nonprofit, which provides a variety of services to foster youth, has two other visitation centers located in churches in Mesa and Peoria.

According to a statement, the department decided to end the contract with its security provider on May 31 as part of an effort to reduce operating costs. The move will save $5 million per year.

Christian Slater, a spokesman for Gov. Katie Hobbs, said the cut was not a part of a proposed hiring cap she is exploring as she engages in budget negotiations with the Legislature and looks for ways to address a projected $1.3 billion budget deficit.

In a press release, the nonprofit claimed DCS and the Governor’s Office have not responded to calls about the potential cut from Kaye McCarthy, president of Arizona for Children. 

According to DCS, the department notified the organization of the decision on April 23 and spoke by phone on May 21.

Arizonans for Children Executive Director Nikki Robison said that security is necessary to provide a safe environment, citing a recent incident when an adult became belligerent during a visitation and allegedly harassed a caseworker.

“And our security guard actually had to physically remove this man from our visitation center, and take him outdoors and require him to leave property,” she said.

Robinson said the other staff at the center would not have been able to handle that situation and she fears a law enforcement response would be too slow if an incident became violent.

“There’s not very many of us, and we run by volunteers. None of us are equipped to handle any type of physical interaction,” Robinson said. 

But, in a statement provided by DCS spokesman Darren DaRonco, the department said court-ordered visits do not require security guards, and it prefers that visits take place in family-like settings, including homes, parks, or community centers. If that is not possible, visitations can occur in DCS offices or visitation centers.

No other visitation centers have a security agreement, including Arizonans for Children’s two other locations.

“AFC has been able to safely provide spaces for families at its other location without security guards,” according to the statement.

The department also pushed back on comments made in a press release issued by Arizonans for Children claiming it is considering closing its Phoenix location.

“We want to emphasize that we are not forcing AFC to close the location … We value the services AFC has provided to families over the years,” according to the DCS statement. “We hope that they will continue serving families at the Camelback center, but if they choose to close it, families will have their visits in other locations.  

Robinson clarified that the nonprofit may have to shut down the visitation center for foster care visits but will continue to provide other services, including a mentoring program for foster youth.

“There's other things we will continue, but the visitation center is a dire part of that bond and the court to see that these parents are able to work through things with their kids and that they will be fit to possibly go home one day,” she said.

→  Get more Arizona politics news

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.