Arizona’s child-welfare system is under increased federal scrutiny for failing to provide adequate translation services for families with limited English abilities.
The Department of Child Safety has entered into a voluntary resolution with federal officials, promising to take steps to improve services for families whose first language is not English. The agency will be subject to periodic reviews over the next two years by the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
The agreement resulted from complaints from 11 people that DCS was not providing them with Spanish translations of documents and services that parents needed to comply with the agency’s family-reunification process. The civil rights office did not name the individuals, but said the complaints were submitted by Arizona’s Barrio Defense Committee and attorneys representing the group.
Sylvia Herrera of the Barrio Defense Committee had gathered many of the examples cited in the complaint.
For example, parents were not provided with Spanish-language versions of the documents DCS is required to give parents when they remove a child from the family home, the complaint alleged.
“From the get-go, they were not provided that paperwork, even though they (DCS) knew they were Spanish speakers,” Herrera said.
In other instances, lack of Spanish-speaking psychologists delayed assessments that must happen for a DCS case to be resolved, she said.
Parent aides, who supervise visits between parents and their children, would bar parents from talking to their children in Spanish, out of concern the parents might say something inappropriate that the aide could not understand, Herrera said.
The civil rights office said it also received complaints that DCS staffers occasionally relied on children to interpret for their parents in cases where language was a barrier.
The civil-rights investigators reviewed DCS data and made in-person visits. It concluded there are “systemic deficiencies” in the agency’s language programs and policies that are intended to prevent discrimination against non-English speakers.
As a result, DCS agreed to take “reasonable steps” to fix the problems. They include:
- A survey of all of its offices to ensure they are able to provide adequate language assistance.
- To name a limited-English proficiency coordinator.
- To update its limited-English proficiency plan by mid-year.
- To update its language training for staffers who come into regular contact with families needing translation services.
- To submit an assessment of its language needs by mid-March.
In a statement, DCS acknowledged that language services are vital to families with limited English skills, and said it will continue to evaluate and improve its services.
“We strive to provide our families with every tool possible to ensure language is not a barrier to accessing DCS services,” the agency said in its statement.
Herrera said she was heartened that the agreement requires the civil-rights office to monitor DCS’ language services for the next two years.
“However, it does not address the fact that hundreds of families were destroyed by DCS practices that lead to foster care and eventual adoption to non-relatives instead of family reunification,” she said.
No agreement, she said, can undo the harm that has already been caused because a family didn’t get the help it needed to navigate the system.