An Arizona lawmaker is leading the charge to find answers regarding “lost” foster care children in his state’s Department of Child Safety (DCS) system.
Republican state Sen. David Farnsworth suspects that trafficking may be involved.
Arizona DCS, which was previously known as Child Protective Services (CPS), claims that 43 children are missing from the system, not including the 232 children identified by the state as “runaways.” The state is reeling from fallout after a 4-month-old died when a foster parent locked her in a car. The foster parent hadn’t been charged with a crime as of press time.
Farnsworth has championed the cause of parents critical of DCS, meeting once every two weeks with a contingent of parental rights advocates. Farnsworth said that he kept hearing from parents at his open meetings and in his office who cited the number of missing children in Arizona.
“I said, ‘I’m tired of hearing this. Come with me, we’re going across the street.’ We talked to JLBC (Joint Legislative Budget Committee) and I asked them about it,” Farnsworth told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“They went to the DCS website and came back with a number of missing children. I became concerned. I started holding these meetings every two weeks, entitled Missing Children, to get answers. I’m not a big fan of government agencies. At best, DCS is an agency that is not working efficiently and is losing children. The more I dig into it, the more concerned I am. The importance of children in state custody going missing—it seems like everything else pales in comparison,” Farnsworth said.
“We need to reduce the number of missing children, the number of children being taken out of their homes—830 per month in the past six months—and we want to increase the number of children being returned to their homes. With more people looking at it, things will improve—whether we’re talking about inefficiency of government or outside predators coming in.”
Activists are working toward making it more difficult for DCS to take children and are trying to get children out of the hands of DCS.
United Liberty Coalition co-founder Shelby Busch told The Epoch Times, “Kelly Townsend, one of our state reps, got legislation passed at the end of last year, to take effect early this year, requiring a warrant from a judge to remove children from their home. But nothing has changed.”
Busch suspects that DCS has lowered its standard for what constitutes “immediate risk” to children in order to obtain warrants.
“A lot of these cases are occurring in the hospital setting, where children are already in a safe setting,” Busch said.
David Jose Watson, a parental advocate who was in multiple meetings with Farnsworth, told The Epoch Times that the Republican senator is on the right track.
“I was able to expose the truth to him [Farnsworth] in the first two meetings. Then, I had another meeting with him. I gave him a ton of evidence and broke it down bit by bit for four and a half hours, with him and a high-powered attorney,” Watson said, referring to his legal strategy to combat DCS by challenging the agency’s authority to take children.
Watson said he has helped get nearly 30 kids back from Arizona DCS since November 2018.
The concern about Arizona’s missing CPS children is deepened by the concern that they are being trafficked.
The State Department’s 2019 human trafficking report stated that “in the United States, traffickers prey upon children in the foster care system” and noted, “Recent reports have consistently indicated that a large number of victims of child sex trafficking were at one time in the foster care system.”
On a national level, 88 percent of runaways whom the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children considered to be likely sex trafficking victims were runaways from the social services system.
The watchdog organization Human Trafficking Search wrote in its 2017 report, “Foster Care And Human Trafficking: A State-By-State Evaluation,” how Arizona has fallen short in preventing trafficking:
“Arizona has not implemented the trafficking-related provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. There are no state laws regarding children missing from care, child welfare agencies are not required to notify law enforcement when a child goes missing from care, nor are agencies required to track rates of children being trafficked from care or screen children in care for signs of potential trafficking.”
“According to the FBI, more than half of trafficked children in America were in the care of social services when they disappeared. That is a damning statistic for a system whose sole purpose is to keep children safe,” Generation Justice CEO Darcy Olsen wrote in a 2019 op-ed published by AZCentral.com. The organization serves abused children through its pro bono Children’s Law Clinic and aims to reform the child-protection system to prevent future injustice.
Busch said, “Many children who come through in child trafficking rings were in social services. After six months, they close the case. They no longer look for these kids, which makes them prime targets.”
Parental rights advocate Steve Robinson told The Epoch Times: “I like to look at the basics, the math. When you look at the statistics, the math, the probability for sex trafficking, human trafficking in all of this is extremely high.
“I think due process needs to be adhered to. One of the things very concerning about Arizona is that not only have they done away with a lot of the due process to remove children from homes, but to cut costs, they have done away with a lot of the reporting and data collection processes to record the specifics in each case—drugs involved in the household, physical or mental abuse, all of the different variables.
“They’re not keeping track of those variables anymore. Children that end up missing, there’s no clues left behind about what the circumstances were or what led up to it. There’s a high number of children placed into foster care by [DCS], a lot of the times they’re not even reported missing because their foster parents are still collecting money for them.”
Farnsworth also has suspicions about the role played by DCS: “I think most knowledgeable adults believe that there is a sex trafficking ring all across the world. In the beginning, I was concerned that there might be a connection between Arizona DCS and this network that most people believe exist. After several months of digging, I am quite confident that there is a connection.”
Farnsworth cited the number of missing children as the basis for his suspicion about a connection with children being held by DCS, as well as the number of people who have reached out to him about the agency.
Arizona DCS didn’t return a request by The Epoch Times for comment for this report.
Follow Patrick Howley on Twitter: @HowleyReporter