To address Southwest Key Programs failures in protecting children and youth detained in state licensed facilities, Governor Ducey signed SB1247 on April 24, 2019 during the AZ legislative Fifty-fourth Legislature, First Regular Session. Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition (URFC) initially supported SB1247 sponsored by Sen. Brophy McGee before she twice amended it. However, SB1247, as enacted, falls short in establishing protections and abuse prevention.
In an effort to close gaps, URFC supported and advocated for an independent oversight committee. The goal of an oversight committee is to make recommendations to ADHS, the Governor, and Legislature for behavioral health residential state licensed facilities.
The idea for an independent oversight committee was first raised by URFC after reports surfaced about Southwest Key Program incidents of abuse and after ADHS Director Cara Christ wrote to Gov. Ducey indicating there was no threat to safety. Clearly something needed to be changed.
Other bills to establish an oversight committee, SB1493 and HB2722, were assigned to legislative health committees but never heard. With few options left, Rep. Butler advanced an amendment to SB1247 in committee and on the floor. To our disappointment, it failed on a partisan vote.
Opposition to the amendment was a spin in many directions. The rationale for opposing was mostly around perceived limited jurisdiction authority and ability to influence services and programs. It is important to know that the state lawmakers can change the law for licensure and classify or sub classify health care institutions. Additionally, the state can write rules that require documentation of operational policy which drive expected outcomes for: quality management, patient assessment/evaluation and abuse reporting. Ultimately, the state has purview over licensure. Moreover, the federal government contracts require facilities to be state licensed.
We need an oversight committee because SB1247 simply does not do enough to prevent abuse. SB1247 addresses reporting and a little leeway in accreditation options for ADHS. It does not address abuse prevention and treatment for the immigrant population being served. These are children and youth in detention that are alone.
Consider the following provisions of the new law.
- It alerts ADHS after an alleged or actual abuse situation – too late for the victim.
- Requires DCS central registry check – employee hiring.
- It alerts ADHS when the funding source for the facility is exclusively from the federal government – administration documentation.
- Requires accreditation reports for each facility – in the case of enforcement, benefits the business not residents.
- Discretion to accept an outside accreditation for licensure – is narrow & conditional.
The discretion to accept an outside accreditation for licensure is the biggest change of all however the parameters for this are very narrow. ADHS now has the option to accept (or not) an outside accreditation only if the facility has not been subject to an enforcement action and the accrediting body is a HHS approved nonprofit organization.
Strengthening the law requires looking at the situation with professionals and making recommendations. An oversight committee can do that and more. URFC recognizes the need for meaningful reforms and vows to continue this work.
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About: Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition is a grassroots organization that came together in June 2018. We work towards reunifying all immigrant children with their families and advocate for their safety, health and wellbeing during immigration processing while in the custody of the United States government.