Immunization Legislation May Impact Foster Care in Arizona
The following is a guest post from Debbie McCune Davis, based on her personal experience as the Executive Director of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization and an Arizona State Representative from District 30.
In Arizona, two legislators have sponsored legislation to lower the standards for families to qualify as Foster Parents. Unfortunately, our Child Protective Services Program (CPS) is overloaded with a record number of children, limited placement choices for children in care, and low staffing levels. Sadly, just when state services are most needed, the agency’s budget was cut.
My legislative colleagues believe that if Arizona will allow parents who don’t immunize their children to become foster parents, than it will be easier for families to qualify to take in foster children. They argue that any family setting is better than a shelter, and that by removing the requirement that foster families must immunize their children, the legislators believe more families will step forward to become foster care providers.
The solution they offer has sparked a debate and the discussion about immunization is being muted by the perception of a crisis. Sadly, the arguments about the safety and well-being of the foster child are lost.
Despite concerns about budget cuts, we must remember that vaccinating our children protects them from risks that are too prevalent in our communities. Are we in denial about the spread of pertussis or the current outbreak of seasonal influenza? Vaccines are essential in helping to protect children from these very same diseases.
Would we allow a family to foster a child that doesn’t believe in putting their kids in car seats? Or doesn’t have a fence around their pool? Vaccinating our children to build immunity against vaccine preventable diseases is our community standard – just like car seats or pool fences. Why would we lower those standards?
When the state takes responsibility for a child as the result of crisis, neglect or abuse, the government stands in the shoes of the parents until the child is returned to the family or becomes a permanent member of a new family. The state of Arizona, just like every other state, has specific vaccine requirements that are enforced at many levels – workplace, child care, and school entry – all for the benefit of the child and the community. Parents throughout our state and our nation adhere to these requirements, and in the rare cases when there is a medical reason that a child should not be vaccinated, Arizona, like every other state, allows a medical exemption to vaccinations. However, this is not the same as the scientifically unsupported personal belief exemptions that parents choose in not vaccinating their children. That is a choice that leaves a child at risk of contracting and spreading diseases. And I would argue that it is one step too far for the state to unnecessarily subject foster children to exposure to diseases that are preventable.
It should be mentioned that two families have approached the agency and asked for this change in the policy. One family has a documented medical exemption for one child in their household. The other family maintains a personal or philosophical belief exemption for all children in their household. Are we to consider that both these families will offer a protective environment for the foster children of our state?
As the Executive Director of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, I stand behind the statement issued by the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. A vaccinated family provides protection that is a much better option for the children that are entrusted to us under our Child Protective Services Program. These children already have so many challenges to overcome. Let’s not add vaccine preventable diseases as additional concerns.
Debbie McCune Davis
Arizona State Representative – District 30
Executive Director – The Arizona Partnership for Immunization