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What I learned from the fired CPS employees

Friday, Karie Dozer and I interviewed five of the six women who were fired by Arizona’s child welfare agency in the wake of a large scandal. Here’s what I learned from Deborah Harper, Tracey Everitt, Janet Sabol, Michelle Parker and Jana Leineweber.

These five workers shouldn’t have been fired

The acting director of Arizona child welfare, Charles Flanagan, said these five workers made “bad decisions” and “they kept changing the rules to allow more and more (cases) to be included (as low priority cases) and that to me certainly looks like a cover up.” Fine. Someone has to be blamed. Here’s some more facts from the DPS investigation:

They weren’t the only ones to mark these files “NI” for not investigated. The report includes 14 pages of names who marked the files the same way. None of these workers have been let go. So, if these five were fired, dozens more CPS employees should have been let go too.

The head of the Department of Economic Security, Clarence Carter, has been excused from any blame. Gov. Jan Brewer said, “bottom line is you know sometimes the captain of the ship doesn’t know if the bathroom is working properly or not. You’re counting on those people around you to bring information to you…You can’t possibly, an agency as large as DES is, know every piece of it and what’s happening 24/7.”

Carter still has a job. He’s a political appointee collecting almost $200,000 per year. Deb, Tracey, Janet, Michelle and Jana worked extra hours on Saturdays for 20 months to help resolve the backlog of cases at CPS. Carter was probably playing golf then. They also told Karie and I today what they were doing wasn’t a secret. Their supervisors, Carter included, all knew and approved of what they were doing, even as they were marking files “NI.”

CPS is a mess

This organization is swamped. They receive too many calls about abuse without having enough workers to investigate them all. CPS is an organization tasked with investigating child abuse cases. The problem is the current set up is destined to fail. It’s a supply and demand problem with demand far exceeding supply.

Hopefully, the special legislative session Brewer intends on calling to fix the agency will do just that. Then again, the state has been down this road before with the child protective services.

There was nothing else to be done

Were mistakes made? Yes. Are mistakes made every day? Yes. But the five fired workers insist they did nothing wrong. Their supervisors never said their actions were wrong while they were doing it. It wasn’t until later when the 6,500 plus cases marked “NI” were made public that anyone accused anyone of doing anything wrong.

Karie and I asked them if they could go back in time what would they change? Their response was simple: Nothing. Nothing because nothing could have been done differently.

I admire Deborah, Tracey, Janet, Michelle and Jana for coming forward. They willingly spoke about their time in CPS and about their role in marking cases “not investigated.” They haven’t run. They haven’t hidden behind their lawyer. They answered every question Karie and I threw their way.

In addition, Michelle said they have no way of knowing if any of the cases they marked “NI” were cases where children were later removed from their homes. The system to mark low-priority cases “NI” originated in 2009. It was never an issue back then. It just is now. And they, along with Sharon Sergent, are the ones who have to pay the price. Not the bosses. Not the political appointees. Not the workers who created the “NI” system a few years ago.

Calling for people to be fired is easy. Calling for change and hoping that CPS actually functions properly is much more difficult. If these five never get their jobs back, let’s hope it was done for the right reason and let’s hope CPS can finally be fixed in the aftermath.