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A group of parents barred from adopting or fostering kids in Arizona’s child-welfare system because they won’t vaccinate their own children are pushing for changes in state law. Susann Van Tienderen and Gina Apilado claim the state violates its own rules by refusing to consider potential foster families whose biological children have medical exemptions from immunization rules. Both women’s families want to adopt children from Arizona foster care. Two state lawmakers — Sen. Nancy Barto and Rep. Debbie Lesko — met this month with officials from the state Department of Economic Security, which oversees foster-care licensing. They said they’re drafting companion bills that would eliminate the vaccination requirement as a licensing condition to become a foster parent. The lawmakers plan to introduce the bills during the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 14. Department of Economic Security officials said the rules are meant to protect foster children who may not be completely immunized, The Arizona Republic reported.Because the department denies licenses to families whose children aren’t immunized, private agencies hired by the state to train and license foster parents typically discourage families from continuing once they learn their biological children aren’t fully vaccinated.
The department said the immunization requirement protects children who have been removed from their homes because of suspected abuse or neglect and who may not be fully vaccinated. That includes newborns who have been removed from their parents in the hospital and aren’t old enough to have had any shots. Van Tienderen and Apilado said they believe many potential foster families are being turned away each year because of the vaccination issue. “These agencies are still turning good families away. It’s unacceptable,” said Apilado, adding that her oldest daughter had a severe reaction to immunizations as a baby. Arizona has a shortage of foster homes, with families closing their doors faster than new homes can become licensed. As a result, a growing number of children are living in crisis shelters and group homes. As of October, nearly 2,000 of Arizona’s 14,500 foster children were in group homes or shelters.It’s not clear how often the vaccination issue comes up in foster care and adoption situations.
Marcia Reck, director of Arizona Adoption and Foster Care, said she could recall only three or four families in the past five years who decided not to continue with foster-care applications because it would require their own children to be immunized. State officials said they are drawing up a new policy expected to be released next month to clarify that parents with “medical documentation” about their unimmunized children can be licensed to foster and adopt, and to ensure that the foster children they bring into their homes have had all their shots.
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