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Updated Feb 24, 2014 - 2:03 pm

Child-welfare chief tells panel new agency needs time to find footing

PHOENIX — The new head of the Arizona’s child welfare agency told an
oversight committee on Monday that it will be months before a solid structure at
the embattled agency is set in place.

Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Charles Flanagan as head of the renamed
Division of Child Safety and Family Services, which is now a stand-alone
department. He was also tasked with investigating why more than 6,500 cases of
abuse and neglect reports received no response.

Flanagan oversaw a review of Child Protective Services that found the cases
were not investigated due to systemic failure, a lack of accountability and
transparency and bad decision-making. The Arizona CARE team, which conducted the
review, also found that law enforcement agencies were underused as a resource
for investigating child abuse and neglect and that CPS had been severely

Flanagan presented those and other findings to the Legislature’s Child
Protective Services oversight committee, but he focused on the need to hire more
caseworkers and to do a better job of retaining them. He also spoke extensively
of the need for the new agency to be transparent.

Several members of the committee asked what Flanagan’s timeline was to fill
both caseworker positions and his own cabinet, for which he has done little

Flanagan said he does not have a deadline but is already moving along on the
process. The agency has traditionally had a 20 to 35 percent turnover rate, he

“You will hold me accountable, I’m sure, but we’re doing things much more
quickly when it comes to these processes,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said having adequate staffing and well-trained caseworkers with proper
supervision is key to improving services. He added that improving transparency
was paramount.

“We failed these families and these children and we did it because we wanted
to hide the workload and that’s unacceptable,” he said.

Members of the committee gave Flanagan, who is also the head of the state’s
juvenile corrections department, high praise for his work so far.

“I think the report was outstanding. I think the work in this timeframe was
outstanding,” committee member Joe Jacober said.

But he asked Flanagan to give the committee more evidence of how he planned
to make the new agency more transparent.

Flanagan said he was going to keep the Arizona CARE Team website updated
weekly. He also said he wanted to create a system that better facilitates
reporting within the organization and to the public.

“When we screw up — because that’s going to happen — we need to be able to
report,” he said. “We need to be open and to be open to critique and to
questions from the outside.”


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