Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The Maricopa County Juvenile Court System is streamlining the adoption process, the goal is to make adoptions quicker and more efficient. Here to tell us more is Judge Bradley Astrowsky of the Maricopa County Juvenile Court. Thank you so much for being here. This is now a juvenile court adoption unit, correct?
Bradley Astrowsky: That is correct. The unit became live August st of this year.
Ted Simons: And why was this needed? Why was it created?
Bradley Astrowsky: Quite frankly, volume. We have so many kids in care, we have close to , kids in care in the state of Arizona. With the increased volume of kids in care you're going to have an increase in adoptions.
Ted Simons: The increased volume, is that just because we have more people in the state? What are the numbers telling us?
Bradley Astrowsky: It's a bit disproportionately more. In there's about , kids in care, now we're up to ,. Part is population driven, part of it is perhaps we're doing a better job from the social service perspective. Part of it also has to do with methamphetamine use, as well.
Ted Simons: We know the problems are out there, but are there specific problems? Why are there so many kids being removed from their families and waiting for new ones?
Bradley Astrowsky: I don't know if there are studies to back this up. Just anecdotally, methamphetamine use is significant in terms of that, as well as mental health issues.
Ted Simons: And as far as adoptive families, not as many as in the past?
Bradley Astrowsky: No. The first person we'd like to adopt the child obviously, if we can't have reunification with biological parents, are grandparents or family members. We have to go to licensed homes or friends or families if that's not possible.
Ted Simons: Has that, the process, changed over the years?
Bradley Astrowsky: That process has not changed over the years.
Ted Simons: What about other processes involved?
Bradley Astrowsky: Well, what we look for is a social study of the prospective adoptive home. The person goes in, they are licensed and see, is it a good home, can I financially meet the needs of a child or children being adopted. You have to do fingerprint clearances, as well, to make sure there are no background or felony or misdemeanor issues with regards to the people. Not just the people doing the adoption, but all people living in the home. Extended family, friends, adult children for example, and that hasn't changed.
Ted Simons: So let's say a family is watching right now and they are interested, curious, they want to know a little more. Give us more of an indication what the process involves, A. And B, what this new adoption unit might streamline or make quicker.
Bradley Astrowsky: First we have to make sure the child is free to be adopted. Sometimes that's through consent. And unfortunately, most of the time through the termination of parental rights done in front of a trial, in front of a judge. After the child is free for adoption, then what happens is DCS, formerly CPS, they will help the family go through that process. That is scheduling the adoptive home study. That is filling out adoption subsidy papers because there are moneys that an adopting home can get to help raise the child. Then there is getting fingerprinted, fingerprint clearances, as well. There is the paperwork process, identifying an attorney to handle the adoption. Sometimes the attorney and the Maricopa County attorney provides access free of charge for adopting.
Ted Simons: Now, in the past was that just extended, the same kind of situation but extended? What changes with the new unit?
Bradley Astrowsky: Sure. It really has to do with volume driven. In the past it was the same process. However, we didn't have the same volume. You had a fewer number of people dedicated to helping handle and process the paperwork. Now we have an increase in volume and you can't have the same number of people handling that increase in volume. Now we have a dedicated unit within the court administration, no additional moneys were spent to create the unit. In other words, it's rededicated resources to make sure that the increased volume is handled appropriately.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask about funding it. It's all right there?
Bradley Astrowsky: That's correct. We just had to rededicate resources.
Ted Simons: We just kind of went through a process here. How long in general does that take?
Bradley Astrowsky: It depends on who the adoptive parent is. For example, if it is a relative like a grandparent or aunt or sibling, that process is a bit shorter, because they don't necessarily have to go through the adoptive home study, then that process can take just a few months. If it is someone who is not a relative, a licensed foster home or a family friend, they have to go through the home study. That's a few months of process.
Ted Simons: Now with the new unit, things supposed to be quicker or more efficient. Some folks would be saying, is this expediency at the cost of safety or caution?
Bradley Astrowsky: It's not for expediency's sake. We still need to do what's in the best interests of the kid in the system. To give you an example, last year close families had to be certified to go through this process. If you have limited resources, it should take longer to vet all that paperwork.
Ted Simons: Who's involved, where are the folks coming from?
Bradley Astrowsky: Court administration or we donated services to this unit, as well.
Ted Simons: Unit has been up and operational since August 1st?
Bradley Astrowsky: That is correct.
Ted Simons: What are you seeing so far.
Bradley Astrowsky: So far no about good, we're not seeing the adoptions yet. On November nd of this year it's National Adoption Day. I'd like to talking a little about that, if that's okay. It's always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, so people don't have their first thing together. We have one of the largest days in the country where we adopted out or so children just on the one day.
Ted Simons: I'm a little confused. Does that mean the process starts or it's been completed.
Bradley Astrowsky: On National Adoption Day they go before a judge, the judge reviews all the papers and makes sure it's in order. You ask some questions and if the requirements have been met you grant the adoption. You pronounce them a whole family on that day.
Ted Simons: In order to get that completion date you've got to get started relatively soon.
Bradley Astrowsky: Exactly. That's why this is in place, so they can process those papers so people can have their adoptions finalized. A lot of people choose to have their adoption happen on National Adoption Day.
Ted Simons: It's hard to get reaction and responses so far. But are you hearing feedback from folks involved in the process from all angles? Are you hearing and are there ways to tinker with this and make it even more efficient?
Bradley Astrowsky: We'll get feedback from everyone involved, DCS, Department of Child Safety, everyone involved, whether it's the families themselves, to tinker with it. We are one of the leaders in the country in terms of being proactive. That's what this was about, being proactive. There was the need and having the hardship for -- they saw an issue and said, let's be proactive. Let's head this off before it becomes a problem?
Ted Simons: This is a little far afield from the concept of an adoption unit being created. There are so many kids and adoptive families looking. Yet it seems like the twain aren't meeting. Can that be improved?
Bradley Astrowsky: I'm not sure that needs to be improved. Say that we have a baby. It involves children under the age of three. When you have kids under the age of three, typically they need or demand from a post perspective is I want for a young kid. They have the potential month daub the child. They are not cuddly like an infant is. This is a little different, there's not that same demand for those children, and that's unfortunate.
Ted Simons: Yes. Congratulations on this new unit, I hope that goes well. Congratulations on the national adoption day.
Bradley Astrowsky: Thank you, thank you.