Thank you Laurie Roberts for your articulate description of the severe problems facing Arizona’s at risk children. While other states suffer from the same “demand exceeds capacity” where social workers are underpaid, under-trained, under-resourced, overloaded, and disrespected, you have tied together the lack of transparency, accountability, and systematic failure elements of the institutional failure that is Arizona’s child protection system. Keep writing please. Your voice is the voice of abused and neglected children in Arizona and around the nation.
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At long last – or again, that is — we have an answer to why Ariana and Tyler Payne had to die, and Jacob Gibson and Schala Vera and 20-month-old Liana Sandoval, whose battered body was found wired to a rock at the bottom of a canal in 2001, one day after Child Protective Services found no evidence of abuse.
At long last – or again, that is – we know why Annie Carimbocas had to die, and Haley Gray and Vanessa Martinez and 3-year-old Angelene Plummer, who was beaten, burned, raped and murdered in 2005 after CPS declared eight times that she was safe.
At long last – or again that is – we know why Janie Buelna left us in 2011, her body scarred, her teeth broken, her leg ravaged by an untreated burn when a simple phone call by CPS might have saved her.
And 22-month-old Za’Naya Flores, who starved to death in 2012 while a CPS caseworker wrote monthly reports on her progress.
At long last – or again that is – we know what the heck is going on in Child Protective Services. And we know how to fix it.
The question is: will we?
On Friday, Gov. Jan Brewer’s Independent Child Advocate Response Examination team – a task force of troubleshooters tapped in December after the agency’s latest epic fail — released its report on what is wrong with Arizona’s most beleaguered agency.
To channel Elizabeth Barrett Browning: how do we count the ways? The problems are rampant: “systematic failure”, “pervasive lack of transparency,” “lack of accountability,” “inadequate checks and balances”.
A hotline where phones ring endlessly and fully a quarter of the callers drop off due to frustration, where calls that do get through aren’t properly routed to criminal investors. An agency where inadequately trained caseworkers fly by the seat of their pants while inexperienced supervisors are otherwise occupied. Where ineffective managers run the place and worse, dream up genius ideas like the plan to not investigate 6,554 reports to ease a backlog of cases.
The CARE team identified 142 points along the way where CPS fails once a call of possible abuse comes in. 142.
“Ultimately, there is broad consensus that the child safety and welfare system is broken,” the report says.
And the root of the problem? “Demand exceeds capacity.”
The CARE team is recommending a number of fundamental changes. Chief among them – hallelujah — is creation of a new state agency separate from the massive DES bureaucracy – one with a new culture and a new mission: “laser focused on the core mission of child safety” but with the ability to provide services so that children don’t have to be yanked out of their homes when their safety isn’t at risk.
It’s also recommending that the hotline be overhauled – that no longer should calls of potential criminal abuse be put in a drawer because CPS workers can’t figure out where a kid lives. That the computer system be replaced with something from the 21stCentury and criminal investigators be integrated deeper into the agency.
That workers be “paid appropriately” and given manageable caseloads. And oh yeah, that they be designated as at-will employees rather than a part of the state’s merit protection system. This, presumably, would make it easier to fire the deadweight and better reward the best and the brightest.
The report also recommends — and this is a biggie — no more hiding.
“The agency must strive to establish maximum transparency in its actions to recapture the trust of the public and create agency accountability,” the report said.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a CARE team member and the point person for this overhaul at the Legislature, told me the plan provides a roadmap that could cure what has long ailed CPS. She believes she can sell it to her colleagues.
“We have a shot at making this better and we’d better damn well do it,” she said.
I hope that she’s right, that the will is finally there, that our leaders will open their minds and their hearts and the state’s wallet to do this for the vulnerable children of Arizona.
Yet I remember too well the past. The “In Harm’s Way” report of 2003 was researched and written after a series of child fatalities rocked the state. It recommended many of the same things that the CARE team is now recommending.
It was dead on arrival a decade ago.
Now at long last – or again that is – we know what the heck is going on in Child Protective Services. And we know how to fix it, for all the Janies and Za’Nayas and Jacobs still among us.
The question is: will we?
(Column published Feb. 1, 2014, The Arizona Republic.)
The problem is the system has become so abusive that those in the agency intimate people with the threat of removing their children. There is no accountability or transparency. These people lie, falsify documents, purger themselves in court, knowingly! They are removing far more children from families than they should, estimated at 80%, and only 50% of kids in foster care in AZ actually make it back home. The system abuses children too! They don’t mention the number of children KILLED in foster care! I know one mother who lost 2 children in foster care, both killed. What are those numbers!
James V. Tribbett · Follow · University of Southern MissI challenge each of the those who post here to write a personal letter to the Governor expressing factual information and not materials presented or quoted by others. In the letter detail out what you are willing to do to help and what suggestions you have to make this work. I believe there is enough money in the State Budget to remedy this but it needs to be overseen not by a bunch of Libs, Conservatives, or kooks who are in the political limelight. It needs to be controlled by those of us who are bearing the tax burden. I suggest that a citizens commission be formed to establish the criteria to measure success and continuation of even employment based on measurable and reportable information. Nearly every single post before this is accusatorial and is not helpful toward fixing the situation. How many of you who posted here have volunteered your services? We are all quick to criticize, but it is time for personal and collective action to fix this. Kids should not have to wait for an misinformed judge to decide whether or not they will be safe and alive.
Mary Melcher · Follow · Top Commenter · Arizona State University…no. Not unless Kavanaugh and his mob can manage to steal the money necessary from any other childrens’ program to fund it. I thought it was interesting that they managed to cough up just slightly more than the 5 million Brewer gifted the billionaire Sperlings with just a couple years ago. Think of what could be done if we just cut off the billionaire welfare queens like them and the sports cartels. Such things as dreams are made of huh?
Martina G. Velasquez · Co Owner at Proxy Daughters, LLCThe problem goes beyond CPS. It is a judge that makes the final ruling regarding dependency actions and places a child in a dangerous situation, ignoring the recommendations of all other parties, includng CPS caseworkers. The solution may have to start with CPS, but is going to have to go much further to truly protect children.
Peggy Simpson · Top CommenterThis would cost lots of money, money that could be spent on more important things like law suits, advertising for tourists, pot holes, court costs and cops to arrest illegals and pot smokers, the Department of Corrections, etc. etc. Children are way down on the list. I don’t see this Republican legislature fully funding this agency. I wonder how they sleep at night!