Keep up pressure after success
Arizona made progress. But the job of reforming the child welfare system is not done.
"It's a great first step," says Maricopa County Attorney
Bill Montgomery, "but the community needs to remain involved." He was
co-chair of the governor's Child Safety Task Force, which made
recommendations that resulted in legislation and a commitment to
administrative reforms within Child Protective Services.
Public involvement means reporting suspected child abuse and monitoring whether reforms are effective. People also need to look at what remains to be done and keep the pressure on.
First the successes:
Legislation to create a special investigative team to look at child-abuse allegations from a law-enforcement perspective is a "most significant piece of evidence that the governor, the director of the Department of Economic Security and myself were serious," Montgomery says.
The new law funds a unit that brings the skills of law enforcement-trained investigators to the task of identifying criminal abuse.
Other CPS bills this session included establishment of an oversight committee that will look into improvements and privatization, an increased focus on the safety of children in domestic violence situations and a task-force recommended elimination of a redundant review process.
Gov. Jan Brewer fought for and won a $42 million appropriation to make up for lost federal funding. Losing that money would have "undercut our child welfare system," DES Director Clarence Carter says. With the backfill of state funds, "we end up being whole," he says. Brewer deserves credit for insisting this money be included in the budget deal.
But "being whole" was not good enough. The reform efforts that led to the task force Carter and Montgomery co-chaired were in response to a series of child deaths and CPS failures.
Dana Naimark, president of Children's Action Alliance, says the focus on better investigations and prosecutions is good, "but an equal measure of attention needs to be on what's happening to kids in the system."
Other areas of concern raised by the task force -- and not addressed by legislation -- include a need for consistency in the way caseworkers deal with foster families, a shortage of foster families and the need for special training for foster parents of children traumatized by criminal abuse.
Carter says internal reforms are under way, and the department has hired a recruiter to help attract and retain caseworkers. In addition, there is an effort to recruit more foster families. This is very positive.
But CPS has long been underfunded. Data collected by the agency shows that for years caseworkers have not even completed all the mandated visits to children in out-of-home care or to foster parents on time. Caseloads far exceed state standards. Workers lack basic technology to do the job.
Despite a flood of children into a system that was not adequate to meet the needs of fewer children, Carter says he has what he needs. He says he won't know if he will request more money until the impact of internal reviews and efficiency improvements are measured.
We applaud his work to redesign practices and streamline the process to free up workers' time.
But this can become a stalling tactic.
That's where continued public scrutiny can make a difference. Don't look away.
20 May 2012