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Updated Dec 3, 2013 - 9:13 pm

Forum on CPS hears of more holes in child network

PHOENIX — Arizona’s child welfare safety net has many more holes than were
made evident by recent revelations of ignored child abuse and neglect reports,
speakers said Tuesday night at a forum on reforming Child Protective Services.

Court systems are unfriendly time-sinks for foster parents, CPS workers and
biological parents trying to regain custody, some said. Others recounted how
struggling families leave their kids home alone or dump them into the system
just to get child care after major cuts virtually eliminated subsidies for the
working poor.

They said prevention programs that could head off family emergencies are
lacking, and CPS workers are so underpaid and undertrained that the agency can’t
keep workers long enough for them to become the seasoned professionals that
children in crisis need on their side.

But the current focus on CPS can act as a catalyst for reforms that are
woefully needed, said Dana Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance,
which organized the event with other advocacy groups to give suggestions to
lawmakers on the Legislature’s CPS oversight committee.

“We know we can make changes,” Naimark said at the onset of the two-hour
forum. “We have an opportunity to shape the future.”

CPS revealed two weeks ago that more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect reports
had been closed without investigation, a number that has since risen to more
than 6,500. Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a state police investigation and on Monday
appointed an independent team to review the investigations and identify areas
needing improvement.

Earlier Tuesday, the agency confirmed that five staffers have been placed on
paid administrative leave as allegations of wrongdoing are investigated. The
closed reports by law required investigations but were somehow declared not
worthy of action.

Brewer has defended the hand-picked head of the Department of Economic
Security, Clarence Carter, who oversees CPS, saying she believed there was a
breakdown in the chain of command between Carter and the agency. Still, the
governor promised accountability.

Juvenile Corrections director Charles Flanagan is leading the team Brewer put
together Monday. He said that his first task is to ensure that an initial review
of the botched cases already completed by CPS was not done by people involved in
initially labeling the cases as “not investigated.”

“These are vulnerable children, and the governor was absolutely clear — we
will get eyes on them and make sure they are safe,” Flanagan said in brief
remarks to several hundred people at the forum.

Along with overseeing the investigation of the closed cases, Flanagan’s team is
tasked with reviewing the agency’s policies and practices and recommending

Gordon Hall, a retired CPS worker who now works for a private social services
agency, said low pay for workers is one major problem. A college graduate
working for CPS as a social worker starts at about $35,000 a year, is handling
nearly twice the federal guidelines for caseloads and can switch to a job at a
hospital and earn 40 percent more.

He also criticized the trio of investigations now looking at CPS, including the
Legislature’s committee.

“We’ve got three committees investigating CPS,” he said. “We need one.”

The lack of prevention programs has contributed to a dramatic rise in neglect
reports, said Dennae Pierre, executive director of the advocacy group Arizona
Foster Care Initiatives. She said a dollar spent on prevention can save $10 in
costs down the road.

“All the dollars in the world won’t help,” Pierre said. “We’re just stuck in
a crisis state.”


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