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home : latest news : state May 25, 2016

11/29/2013 8:55:00 AM
State police to probe negligence at Child Protective Services
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery  (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery  (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
Lawmakers critical of new Child Protective Services plan by DES director
By Howard Fischer

Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A plan by the Department of Economic Security to deal with a backlog of 6,000 uninvestigated child abuse complaints is getting panned by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said Tuesday the three-page work plan crafted by DES Director Clarence Carter "lacks in detail and falls short on addressing the accountability that the public and legislators are demanding.' Barto, who co-chairs a special committee with oversight over Child Protective Services, said in a prepared statement she is not convinced that the agency can really do justice to all the reports.

That's also the assessment of Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, the ranking House minority member on the oversight panel.

"It is still unclear how DES and CPS are realistically going to finish this job,' she said. And McCune Davis said Carter has not provided adequate information about who is investigating the cases and how they will be handled.

"This response leaves too many questions unanswered,' she said.

The reactions come less than 24 hours after Carter released a plan saying his agency can finish investigating the more than 6,000 overlooked investigations, which date back four years, in just two months. And DES spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said all that can be done without falling behind on new complaints which are coming in at the rate of 2,500 a month.

McCune Davis said that makes no sense, especially since CPS already has a backlog of about 10,000 cases -- cases listed as "inactive,' meaning there has been no action take on them for at least two months.

Carter disclosed last week that a newly created Office of Child Welfare Investigations discovered that some abuse complaints through the CPS hotline had not been forwarded to field offices. Instead, member of a special SWAT team had simply marked them as not for investigation.

While the practice started slowly it accelerated to the point where 3,000 complaints -- about one out of every 12 this year -- were closed without investigation. All totaled there were 6,000 cases sidelined over four years.

Gov. Jan Brewer said she was shocked by the findings and ordered Carter to come up with a plan to take a look at each of these.

Carter said in his plan that his staff already has culled through about half of those. While about 1,800 were referred for further investigation, another 879 were identified as potentially eligible for an expedited "alternative investigation,' a process that would allow them to be closed without a caseworker going to the house.

Barto questioned how thorough CPS is being, saying staffers went through those first nearly 3,000 complaints in only three days.

"How thorough could those assessments be?' she asked.

Barto noted that Carter has promised to screen the remaining half by the end of the day this coming Monday. And he has said every case will be resolved by the end of January.

"I am not confident that the agency can properly review each and every case in the short timeframe outlined and be assured that the issue is resolved once and for all,' Barto said.

Peterson said that Carter's plan for dealing with the backlog will work -- and that it will not result in new abuse reports falling by the wayside

She said Carter already has identified 257 staffers who are not working now as active caseworkers who can be tapped to dig into the 6,000 cases without having to juggle existing cases. These include supervisors, central office staff and investigators within the Office of Child Welfare Investigations.

Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said his boss is confident that each of these previously ignored complaints will be dealt with properly.

But the effort to classify some of these as suitable for an "alternative investigation' means that not every child who was reported as abused will be seen by a caseworker.

Peterson said rules which have been in place since 1999 create a special procedure when a report has been filed by someone like a police officer, teacher or doctor. In those cases, a supervisor can instead make a phone call to determine whether the youngsters are now are current victims of mistreatment or at risk of imminent harm.

If not, then Peterson said the case can be closed after follow-up verification with the source who reported the original abuse.

Barto said she and other members of the oversight committee want more details from CPS of exactly how the process works -- and that closing cases this way does not simply add to the existing backlog.

Several Democrat lawmakers have called for a special legislative session to provide additional immediate funding for CPS to not only deal with the 6,000 ignored complaints but also address the backlog and get caseloads for caseworkers in more manageable range. But Wilder said Brewer does not believe that is necessary.

"There's money there, right now, to pay for the overtime, to pay for the after-hours, to attack this problem head-on,' he said. "There's a process in place to tackle the immediate task at hand, which is making sure that each one of those 6,000 cases are thoroughly investigated.'

And Wilder said lawmakers earlier this year provided $70 million for 200 additional staffers, including caseworkers, for the agency. And Wilder said the call by Democrats for more money is a "predictable, tired solution.'

Anyway, he said, it makes no sense to immediately provide more money for CPS on a longer-range basis until the Department of Public Safety finishes its review of the agency's practices, including how the 6,000 cases got shuttled aside without anyone knowing and what needs to be done to prevent a repeat.

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The state's top police agency is ready to investigate how 6,000 reports of child abuse over four years fell through the cracks.

Bart Graves, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Monday that four or five investigators are being assigned to a full-time inquiry of Child Protective Services. He said the main focus of the probe, ordered by Gov. Jan Brewer, is figuring out what went wrong.

But less clear is whether DPS will try to figure out exactly who is responsible for what became a policy at the agency of ignoring state laws which require all complaints to be investigated. And, for the moment, no one is looking at whether a crime has been committed.

"If we get to that point, either another law enforcement agency will be asked to conduct that part of it, or another unit within DPS,' Graves told Capitol Media Services. He said the focus now is helping CPS make improvements in its complaint handling process.

That decision not to focus on criminal issues is apparently what Brewer wants, at least for the time being.

"We're not going to get ahead of the DPS review,' said gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder. "The governor has stated, and she believes, it is important to let that (administrative review) happen first.'

The DPS inquiry comes as Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter was supposed to release his plan by close of business Monday for catching up with those 6,000 complaints that were never investigated.

The report, with a promise to get through an initial review of all missed cases by next Monday, finally came close to five hours later. That annoyed Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who chairs a special legislative oversight panel, who said Carter and his staff had "the entire weekend' to draw up a time line for what steps the agency intends to take.

"It's really indicative of what the oversight committee members are dealing with,' she said on a Monday night public affairs news show on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate.

"We ask for information and oftentimes it's woefully lacking,' Barto said. "It's indicative there are systemic problems throughout.'

On Thursday Carter disclosed that an independent investigative arm within CPS had found there had been 6,000 complaints of child abuse that had been marked "NI' -- as in not for investigation. The practice, which began slowly in 2009, accelerated to the point of becoming a de facto policy where about one complaint out of every 12 made this year had been shunted off into the NI category.

The practice was discovered by Greg McKay, a Phoenix Police Department investigator on loan to CPS to head that Office of Child Welfare Investigations. He said a review of the most recent 3,000 uninvestigated complaints found 23 where there was evidence of criminal conduct and 10 where the allegations that were reported -- and ignored at the time -- were so alarming as to send an investigator out now.

They also found 125 instances where, after the first report was ignored, there was a second complaint of abuse.

McKay said, though, there was no evidence any child had died.

Brewer, who said she had been caught unaware, ordered Carter to come up with a plan to clean up the backlog.

"What she wants -- what everybody wants -- is to investigate every case, no exceptions,' Wilder said. "We've got to make sure that every child is safe and every case is reviewed.'

But Wilder said she also ordered the DPS to take a closer look "to see how this inexcusable failure occurred.'

"It's an administrative review,' he said. "It's not a criminal investigation right now.'

Graves said the heart of the inquiry will be on figuring out what went wrong and helping CPS come up with practices to prevent a repeat.

"What we've been asked to do is review how they've been doing this and see what that shows us,' he said, saying the main focus, he said, is "what could have been done better.'

But Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said something more is needed.

"There needs to be a determination of how the policy came around and how it was implemented,' said McCune Davis, the ranking Democrat on a special legislative oversight committee.

"And then you refer it to a prosecutor who make a decision as to whether it meets the standard for criminal prosecution,' she continued. "It's not a one-step process.'

If there eventually is a criminal probe, it could end up being handled by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who also serves on that special legislative oversight panel.

Montgomery told Capitol Media Services it would be "inappropriate' for him to comment on whether there was any criminal intent by those who decided to ignore those 6,000 cases. He said all the information he has at this point comes from what was disclosed at a committee hearing on Thursday.

Still to be decided is whether Carter, hired by Brewer in early 2011, remains at DES.

"That remains to be seen,' said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who chairs the legislative panel. "Somebody must be held responsible,' though she isn't sure it is Carter.

But McCune Davis said she's seen and heard enough.

"I'm ready for him to go,' she said.

Montgomery said that, at the very least, any review by DPS should result in new procedures at CPS "to ensure that no one can even negligently fail to follow the statute going forward.'

He said that might take the form of some new quality assurance process to monitor what happens after complaints come in. Montgomery said that might include a regularly scheduled process which compares the number of complaints into the CPS hotline with the number of cases opened and the number of proper dispositions "to ensure that you don't wind up with X number of cases where nothing's happened.'

Related Stories:
• Editorial: Uninvestigated cases expose incompetence at state Child Protective Services

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013
Article comment by: Carl Nye

from the article:

"3,000 complaints -- about one out of every 12 this year"

Mathematically this would seem to say that there were 36,000 complaints this year, or almost 100 every day. That is incredible.

Not only does this reflect very negatively on the competence of Child Protective Services, but what does it say about our society as a whole, when it generates 100 complaints a day, and who knows how many problems are not even reported?

Truly sad.

Posted: Saturday, November 30, 2013
Article comment by: Barnaby Wild

Suddenly, all the Republican politicians are outraged that children are not being properly protected and that government is failing. The chorus: "Something must be done!"

By "coming to the rescue" of these abused and neglected Arizona children, they can appear to be "compassionate conservatives" with "family values".

(Remember earlier this year when the Governor suddenly approved 200 new CPS case workers?) This emergency has existed for a long time.

The Republican myth goes like this:
Taxes are bad for voters, so representatives who seek reelection should cut taxes. However, the state cannot legally run a deficit, so since we are cutting taxes, we must cut spending. Government is a waste of taxpayer money because it is inherently bureaucratic, so cut back on government agencies, like CPS. Besides, parents obviously know what is best for their children, so Government should stay out of private parent/child relationships.

The result is that our State Representatives choose to believe that less and less money should be spent on children and on protecting children from abusive adults. They also take pride in spending less and less on child education.

Having worked with these children at the East Valley Child Crisis Center in Mesa, I can assure you that there is only one innocent party here, the child.

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