Phoenix – Governor Doug Ducey has signed SB 1247, which was introduced by Arizona State Senator Kate Brophy McGee to address problems at Southwest Key facilities. The bill, supported by Southwest Key, merely requires employees to pass background checks, central registry checks, and have a valid fingerprint card.
Brophy Magee claimed at the time she introduced the bill that it would “ensure that the facilities in which they are housed are safe and that the employees of those facilities are safe for the children as well.” However, the bill provides minimal protections for vulnerable children.
In 2015, Arizona State Representative Bob Thorpe called for an investigation into the Southwest Key facilities under contract by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and licensed by the State of Arizona. Thorpe’s request was ignored despite the fact that local Arizona law enforcement agencies had received reports of sexual abuse and run-aways.
Thorpe was concerned that the shelters operated in secrecy as a result of federal government policies that demanded silence from service providers and potential whistleblowers.
Thorpe begun looking into disturbing reports from constituents about ORR’s placement process and the treatment of the UACs in the shelters while awaiting placement.
Those reports included claims by whistleblowers that the minors were living in unhealthy environments until being handed over to questionable sponsors, according to an ADI report. Whistleblowers reported lice-infested facilities and minors being turned over to coyotes, the term used to describe human smugglers in the Southwest.
Social workers told the ADI that it was unknown how many Southwest Key clients were abused in the shelters or handed over to predators, but they believed child exploitation occurred at the hands of fellow employees or sponsors, who received the children after leaving the shelters, on a weekly basis.
In 2016, Thorpe introduced HB2682, which required a refugee facility to be licensed by the state and inspected monthly. That effort failed, leaving thousands of vulnerable children with virtually no protections.
Brophy McGee can usually be counted on to run bills that have little value other than to make legislators sound and feel good. Such is the case with SB 1247.