PHOENIX — About 6,000 cases of suspected child abuse or neglect that were
reported to a statewide Arizona hotline over the past four years were never
investigated, officials disclosed Thursday, calling it reason for “grave
A team at Arizona’s Child Protective Services agency improperly designated the
cases “N.I.” _ meaning “Not Investigated” _ to help manage the heavy
workload and focus on the most severe cases, said Clarence Carter, chief of the
state’s child welfare system.
Under state law, all reports generated via the hotline must be investigated,
All the cases will be reviewed, officials said. At least 125 cases already have
been identified in which children were later alleged to have been abused, they
“I don’t know of any fatalities,” Gregory McKay, the agency’s chief of child
welfare investigations, said of the botched cases.
No one has been disciplined, but Arizona’s Department of Public Safety will
“There must be accountability in this matter, and I will insist on further
reforms to make sure that it cannot happen again,” Gov. Jan Brewer said.
The practice of misclassifying the cases and essentially closing them started
in 2009, Carter said. The number rapidly escalated in the past 20 months as
caseloads increased and other changes were made, and 5,000 of the 6,000 cases
happened in that time, he said.
“The idea that there are 6,000 cases where we don’t know whether or not
children are safe, that’s cause for grave alarm,” said Carter, who as director
of Arizona’s Department of Economic Security oversees CPS and other social
CPS has been one of the governor’s major priorities and has suffered from
understaffing and major increases in abuse reports and workloads in recent
years. Brewer got approval from the Legislature in January for emergency funding
for 50 new caseworkers and regular funding for 150 more in the budget year that
began July 1.
In a statement, the governor called the mishandling of the cases “absolutely
“The most urgent priority is to ensure that each one of the children involved
in these cases is safe,” Brewer said. “Every case must be investigated _ no
exceptions, no excuses. It is not only the right thing, but it is the law.”
The head of an Arizona child advocacy organization said the mishandling of the
reports was just part of a whole list of problems at the agency.
“This reconfirms what we’ve already known about the system, which is that it
is overwhelmed and can’t function appropriately,” said Dana Naimark, who leads
the Children’s Action Alliance. “It needs revamping and needs more resources.”
Naimark said that among other things, 10,000 current cases haven’t been
addressed within the 60-day time limit.
Arizona has struggled in recent years with an increase in child abuse reports,
a growing number of children in foster care, and turnover of child welfare
workers. It also has been criticized by families who lost children, including
relatives of a 5-year-old girl who police in a Phoenix suburb said was killed by
her mother despite previous abuse reports.
In another case, a woman charged along with her husband with child abuse in the
July death of their severely malnourished 15-month-old daughter was originally
investigated by CPS in 2012 at the time of the child’s birth.
The practice of routinely closing cases as N.I. was exposed after two police
agencies inquired about the status of two abuse cases. Both cases, it turned
out, had been marked N.I., McKay said. Further investigation found that the
practice was widespread.
The problems were blamed on a special unit that reviewed incoming hotline
reports and decided, like a triage team, which ones were most serious.
Normally, incoming reports from police, family, doctors or neighbors would be
sent to field offices for investigation, McKay said. But the specialized unit
was instead pre-reviewing them and wrongly classifying some as N.I., McKay said.
The average number of hotline reports generated each month is 3,649, according
to the most recent CPS semi-annual report. One in 12 was essentially being
closed without investigation since January.
The 1,000 caseworkers assigned to child welfare investigations already have
caseloads that are 77 percent above the standard, according to CPS. Carter is
asking for an additional 350 workers in the coming budget.
Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.