Tucson News Now reports that “[a] semi-annual child welfare report sent from DES shows that child abuse is skyrocketing in Arizona.”
According to the report, the number of reports increased from 16,134 in April through September 2009 to 22,161 cases in October 2012 through March 2013. During the latter timeframe, 32,300 calls were received; “[e]very call that does not meet the criteria for a CPS report is reviewed within 48 hours by quality assurance staff to ensure the accuracy of that decision.”
The “quality assurance” is difficult to swallow when reading reports about the deplorable state of Arizona’s child welfare system.
Reportedly “about 6,000 cases of suspected child abuse reported to [the] Arizona hotline were never investigated[.]”
Clarence Carter, head of Arizona’s child welfare system, revealed that “[o]ver the past four years, a team at Arizona’s Child Protective Services agency improperly designated the cases ‘N.I.’ — meaning ‘Not Investigated’ — to help manage their heavy workload and focus on the most severe cases[.]”
In light of these claims, the statistics including the “(31.4 percent) [of calls that] did not meet the statutory criteria for a CPS report” are questionable.
What’s also alarming is “that 3,000 cases were closed between November 15-17 of this year” and “a box of Child Protective Services records turned up next to a trash can in an alley in central Phoenix[.]”
Governor Jan Brewer’s response? Create another bureaucracy to investigate the problem.
While “[f]ive higher-level staffers at the state’s child-welfare agency were put on administrative leave[,]” Governor Brewer has resisted calls to fire Clarence Carter, “[saying] he had done ‘a fine job’” and declaring that “we’re not going to start attacking people until we know that we’ve got a basis for doing that.”
Carter is “shocked by the findings.” The findings are indeed shocking: “of those complaints marked ‘NI’’ already reviewed, [. . .] it turns out there have been 125 subsequent reports of abuse involving the same people.”
There are “10,000 cases listed as ‘inactive,’ meaning there has been no follow-up for at least 60 days, and that it takes ‘months and months’ to close cases[.]” Children’s advocate Dana Naimark wonders how the 6,000 cases can be investigated while also dealing with the backlog and new cases.
When dealing with child abuse claims, time is of the essence; improper assessments of cases can lead to preventable deaths: “[t]here have been multiple cases [investigated by CPS workers] where those children [left in the home] later end up dead, including three in a one-month period.”
Unfortunately, Arizona is not anomalous.
Brewer rejected suggestions that her administration is responsible for the oversight, noting that child-welfare issues plague officials in other states as well.
“It’s never going to be perfect; we don’t live in a perfect world,” she said.
Sadly, we don’t. That doesn’t minimize the fact that Arizona’s child welfare system is in shocking disarray. Governor Brewer should see to it that the system is fixed, and so should governors in other states with malfunctioning child welfare systems.
Those other states will be highlighted in future posts.