Arizona’s Child Protection Crisis.

January 20, 2014, Democratic Perspective co-hosts Steve Williamson and Mike Cosentino reflected on the failures of Arizona Child Protective Services (CPS) and Governor Brewer’s decision to create a new cabinet-level division that will report directly to the governor’s office. The decision was precipitated by news that CPS had a backlog of nearly 10,000 cases that had received no attention in the last 60 days and as many as 6,500 cases of child abuse and neglect that have gone univestigated. In fact, it has been estimated that CPS has investigated just 17 percent of the most serious abuse cases.

It’s unclear if the problems were the result of mismanagement by the agency’s director, Clarence Carter, a Brewer appointee. But it is clear that the agency simply did not have the resources to do its job. CPS had a case load 177 percent of the state standard because the legislature failed to provide the funds needed to protect children from neglect and abuse. “This is one of the things that you should throw money at,” said Cosentino. “These are kids’ lives we’re talking about.”

The lack of funding became critical as a result of the Great Recession. There was an 11 percent increase in cases in 2010 and 2011 at the same time the state budget was being cut. Yet Carter kept saying that CPS had plenty of money. “That was obviously not true,” said Cosentino. Indeed, near the end of 2013, Carter finally requested an additional $115 million in funding and 444 caseworkers, investigators, attorneys and support staff. Unfortunately, one of the most influential Republican legislators, John Kavanaugh, recommended cutting the number to $45 million and taking the funding from the state’s Early Childhood Development and Health Board.

Given research that has shown pre-school education is the best way to improve scholastic achievement throughout the lifetime of a child, cutting that funding could simply amount to child abuse of another kind.

To be fair, the issues with CPS and lack of funding go back many years under the leadership of both political parties, but the problems were magnified under Gov. Brewer. In reality, her decision to replace CPS with a new division is her attempt to fix her own problem. And the question remains…would she have acted if it had not been for the persistence of the Arizona Republic and three of its columnists: Laurie Roberts, E.J. Montini and Linda Valdez? They continued to report on the agency’s failings and the children who fell through the cracks. They told the stories of children who died of abuse and neglect. They told us things we didn’t want to know.

Until recently, there was a tendency for lawmakers to blame the CPS caseworkers. But, given the lack of funding, that was extremely unfair. “Even with proper resources, the task is almost impossible for case workers,” said Williamson. “They have to get in the door, gain the parent’s trust, and get their agreement on an individual plan. In addition, they have to deal with lots of paperwork and legal constraints. And, in rural areas, the case workers often have to drive hundreds of miles to meet with families,” he continued.

The task of child protection is made more difficult by the effects of the recession and by legislative budget cuts. “You can’t cut unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food stamps and all of these other services without having an affect on children,” said Cosentino. “When it’s harder for adults, it’s harder for kids.”

For more on the subject, listen to the podcast.  And you’ll find much more information through the following resources: Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, Aid to Adoption of Special Kids , Child Crisis Center , and Children’s Action Alliance.

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