Bill to add state oversight of facilities like Southwest Key ready for Senate vote

A Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would impose more local oversight on facilities like Southwest Key, which contracts with the federal government to house migrant youth.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, sponsored Senate Bill 1247 which would give the Arizona Department of Health Services, which licenses Southwest Key as residential child behavioral health facilities, discretion to inspect those sites. Currently, state inspectors can only go to healthcare facilities to investigate complaints. The proposal would also require operators of child residential behavioral health facilities that have federal contracts to check the backgrounds of their employees against a state database of child abuse reports. The operators would also be required to add reports of child abuse to that state register kept by the Department of Child Safety.  

Southwest Key is the nation’s largest operator of shelters for migrant minors who arrived in the country alone to seek protection or were separated from their parent. The non-profit has 11 facilities in Arizona, and is under state-imposed restrictions after inspectors uncovered deficiencies in its background check records. Several incidents inside the shelters, including sexual abuse and alleged physical abuse, have prompted public scrutiny.  

Brophy McGee said she proposed Senate Bill 1247 as a response to the recent controversies surrounding migrant youth shelter operator Southwest Key. A committee approved an amendment earlier this month that narrowed the scope of the bill.  

During Monday’s debate on the Senate floor, Brophy McGee added an amendment to require all child behavioral health residential centers that exclusively contract with a federal agency to notify ADHS whenever there’s an “actual or alleged event that creates a significant risk of harm to the well-being of a resident.” The ADHS reporting requirement applies if the incident also requires notification to law enforcement, DCS or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SB1247 could be scheduled for a full vote of the Senate as early as this week.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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