The old Arizona Child Protective Services was the source of a tremendous amount of controversy back in the early 2010s. The stories abound on the internet regarding Arizona CPS workers removing children from their homes. Some without even performing investigations into the child abuse or neglect allegations that brought them there. While this is bad enough, it seemed that the Arizona foster care system was often worse. Frequently, the home these children were removed from proved to be safer. In response, the Arizona Governor completely abolished the CPS department in 2014. They rebuilt it from the ground up, renaming it the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
After its formation, the Arizona Department of Child Safety faced a tall task. Over 33,000 open and uninvestigated reports of child abuse and neglect. Even with the best-staffed agency with almost unlimited funding that the number of backlogged cases seems almost insurmountable. Not only that, but the new Arizona Department of Child Safety also had to deal with over 19,000 children in a foster care system that didn’t even have near enough safe foster homes for those children to go to.
It’s been nearly 8 years. And we need to ask ourselves a tough question. With all the damage caused by CPS, is the new & improved Arizona Department of Child Safety any better? And if not, what’s hindered their progress and caused them to fail once again?
How Did the Arizona CPS Department Get so Messed Up?
In 2009 the state government drastically cut the Arizona CPS budget due to the crashing economy at that time. That budget cut happened right when the reports of child abuse and neglect started to skyrocket. As a result, come 2013, only 17% of the child abuse and neglect allegations were being investigated by CPS workers.
With personal experience with a CPS agency, I know how difficult a CPS case manager’s job really is. Just understanding that the welfare of defenseless children is in your hands alone can be unbearably stressful at times. Most government CPS agencies are understaffed and that means that the caseworkers’ caseload is huge and can be overwhelming.
To the bean counters handling state budgets, the children in the system are nothing but numbers. It’s the caseworker’s job to ensure that these children are safe and cared for. It’s a lot like overstuffing classrooms. Teachers tasked with looking after 45 students will churn out bad results. And when those bean counters decide each caseworker can have 130 cases each, we’re left with a similar quandary.
Let’s Be Real for a Moment
It seems to me that it would be impossible that every Arizona CPS worker, pre-Arizona Child Protective Services, was a cold-hearted baby snatcher that lived off the tears of caring and honest parents. What seems much more likely is that these caseworkers did not have the time or resources to investigate the allegations of abuse. Consequently, they just removed the children as a precaution. After all, it is the easier option, at least for the.
The problem wasn’t just the underfunded Arizona CPS system at the time. It was the economic condition of the State of Arizona itself. Since the economic recession in the mid-2000s, Arizona legislators cut funding and programs in place to assist families in poverty. Things like state-assisted childcare programs were quashed by Arizona lawmakers. Then, when the cases of child neglect skyrocketed, everyone acted surprised.
Additionally, vital drug and alcohol programs were cut as well. As a result, there were more parents that were addicted to drugs and alcohol having their children removed by CPS. After the budget cuts to CPS and other programs to assist families in poverty, Arizona suffered the consequences. Arizona ranked as having one of the worst collective trauma scores in the nation. As a result of their actions, nearly 70% of the abuse & neglect cases that came through Pima County alone in 2016 involved substance abuse on the part of one or both parents.
The Enormous Task the Arizona Department of Child Safety Faced
In April of 2015, the brand-new Arizona Department of Child Safety was met with a backlog of 33,245 reports of child abuse and neglect. Yet another issue faced was the population of Arizona had increased dramatically from 2010 to 2014 which in turn increased the reports of child maltreatment by 44%.
Even though there was an additional budget for caseworkers granted by the State and more money for foster care, this backlog seemed almost insurmountable by the new department. Furthermore, this new organization discovered that the old CPS abandoned the well-thought-out process that was in place to justify a child removal in the first place.
Forms that had multiple categories that needed to be addressed to justify removal regarding safety & health threats were ignored. Finally, necessary criteria that needed to be addressed like drug use, instances of domestic violence, and unsafe living conditions were never documented, investigated, or recorded prior to a child’s removal. Instead, the new Arizona Department of Child Safety discovered brief and unspecific narratives that were nearly impossible to search or analyze, that were supposed to justify child removals.
The mess left by the severely underfunded and understaffed CPS was coupled with the terrible and dangerous foster care system that needed to be addressed by the new Arizona Department of Child Safety. Meanwhile, accounts of children being removed from perfectly safe homes and placed in foster care homes where they were being abused and sexually assaulted had gripped the attention of that nation. Again, the main problem with the Arizona foster care system was that too many children “needed” foster care. However, there were not enough safe foster homes to house them.
The Review by Chaplin Hall
One of the legislative measures passed when the new Arizona Department of Child Safety was established was the hiring of an independent consultant, the Chaplin Hall Center for Children, to do a front-to-back review of the Arizona child safety system. After an extensive review by Chaplin Hall, some of the root causes of the massive backlog faced by the Arizona Department of Child Safety were identified.
One of the main problems was the hotline used to report cases of child abuse and neglect in Arizona. It seemed that the guidelines that the workers at the hotline were directed to use were somewhat confusing and ambiguous.
After the intensive review by Chaplin Hall, brand new management processes were instituted throughout the entire child safety system. A workgroup was established to supervise the implementation of the new processes. These included subcommittees to address the following issues:
- Trouble with the report hotline
- Implementing family preventative measures to reduce the need for the department’s intervention
- Ensuring caseworkers were not overloaded by cases
- Increasing the safety and risk assessments prior to a removal of a child
The workgroup assigned to the hotline instituted decision-making protocols that were more defined and left the choice to send a call to the department for investigation less to the discretion of the unqualified hotline worker and more to strict set guidelines.
Implementing New Implementations
Each task developed by each subcommittee had its own director and its own deadline. All the progress made by the subcommittee was reviewed weekly to ensure that the tasks were on course and the deadlines were being met.
The hotline subcommittee developed a screening process that included specific examples of child abuse and neglect. Then, the caseworkers only responded to calls that met this criterion. Before the hotline revamp, a lot of the calls being sent to the old CPS were based on the hotline staff’s discretion. This isn’t the best plan of action, so changing this was likely a good call.
After the Arizona Department of Child Safety instituted this new practice, the screen rate for hotline calls dropped from 70% to 55%. Additionally, all calls sent to the department underwent a secondary quality control screening. This ensured that the caseworkers’ time would not be wasted during the investigation.
Swiftly Attacking the Problem
Another regulation set into motion was the implementation of report & response timeframes. In other words, when a report came in for investigation, the caseworker must make a safety determination within 48 hours. If the caseworker finds that the child’s safety and well-being are in jeopardy, the worker then creates a safety plan. In the plan, the caseworker detailed what actions to take and how to ensure the child’s safety. This might include removing the child, bringing another caregiver into the home, or even removing an alleged perpetrator out of the home.
Another important step implemented to reduce that massive backlog faced by the Arizona Department of Child Safety was to identify the handful of regions in Arizona that had the biggest backlog and then deploy teams to those regions. They would focus most of their efforts to reduce the overflow of reports there, prior to moving on to the regions that were less congested by reports. Outside of this, the majority of the workload left over by the old CPS agency became the responsibility of the Arizona Department of Child Safety staff.
After All This, is the Arizona Department of Child Safety Any Better?
Working in any child protective agency is not an easy job. It takes a great emotional and mental toll on a person who really cares about their job. Our children really are our future and making sure that they are able to handle that future is one of the most important jobs there is.
One of the best steps that the new Arizona Department of Child Safety implemented was setting up citizen review panels. The goal was to ensure an outside body could keep track of and oversee the department. Great idea right? Successful implementation could really keep the department honest and transparent. However, like most good things, that didn’t last long.
Quick to Fail
On November 24, 2017, The director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety made a statement saying that the department will further “insulate” DCS from outside oversight in its operations. Meaning that there will no longer be a citizen review board. DCS then tried to make it look like that change would streamline their process and make it easier for them to do their job.
While not having to answer to the general public about their process may indeed make it easier to perform their function it also invites sloppiness. So, is the Arizona Department of Child Safety any better than the old CPS?
Well, the 12 News reported that in 2019 at least 59 children died by homicide in the State of Arizona according to the Child Fatality Review Program, and 12 News discovered that nearly half of these children has at least one prior report to DCS. Even worse, over the last five years of child fatality reports, the department had involvement in nearly half of the cases where the child later died. When the 12 News team dug even deeper they discovered that in 165 child fatalities the department found allegations of abuse and neglect “unsubstantiated.”
This news isn’t exactly great, especially when you consider the recent decision to disband the citizen review panel. But what happened to the massive backlog faced by Arizona DCS right after its formation?
Creatures of Habit
At the begging of 2021, the Arizona Department of Child Safety had only a backlog of just 95 cases. This is extraordinary considering the 33,000 cases that the department faced at its formation. It seems that all the policies and new systems implemented worked, right? However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it rarely is when discussing the Arizona DCS.
Currently, the number of backlogged cases has skyrocketed to 1,867. It seems like the new DCS is falling into the same pit that the old CPS had slipped into. The current director of Arizona DCS, Mike Faust, stated that the backlog is due to a shortage of caseworkers and also the difficulty of the job itself. And I can relate.
I know that the job is hard, and the turnover rate for a child safety worker is very high. However, considering how overworked and underpaid people in this industry are, it’s no surprise it’s tough to keep a full-time, dedicated staff. It’s a problem that continues to feed into itself. Both the people and the organizations seem to be creatures of habit.
Throwing Money at the Problem
The department did make a request for more money to pay their caseworkers. And the state approved the request and granted the funds. However, not even that seems to have made much of a difference this late in the game. And to be realistic, it rarely does.
I once had a job that was horribly abusive and I planned to quit as soon as I had the opportunity. When my boss came in one morning and told me he was giving me a $3/hour raise, I remember saying in my head “You could give me a $100/hour raise and I’d still leave.” And I’ll bet many of the overworked, underpaid, underappreciated staff feel similarly.
The bottom line is that money only matters so much. Once your staff see the true side of you or fail to find satisfaction in their career, waiving green paper in front of their faces fails to pack a punch. They’ve seen you not care when they needed you to, seen you do shady things, and seen you treat people poorly. And money just doesn’t matter much compared with those things.
Later, Faust claimed that a large spike in abuse and neglect cases in Arizona added to the problem. Currently, the open reports of abuse are about 3,000 over the benchmark amount currently. Additionally, the number of children placed in out-of-home care is 861 over the benchmark. Faust attributes COVID to having an effect on these numbers as well.
Arizona’s Disregard for the Law
In 2018, a fellow we will call “Mr. B” to preserve his anonymity was accused of child abuse at a group home that he had worked at. He’d worked with children for many years as a football coach, teacher, and supervisor of foster kids. So what happened?
During an incident where one of the kids at the group home had an outburst, Mr. B placed his hand on the kid’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. However, the group home resident then claimed that Mr. B had used “inappropriate restraint” during the incident. Later, another child created a bunch of false accusations against Mr. B in an attempt to get Mr. B in trouble.
An Administrative Law Judge, after an intense review of the case, and after hearing the testimony of witnesses, concluded that the cause did not exist to support a finding of abuse. She then cleared Mr. B of the charges. However, it didn’t end there. For some reason, despite the judge’s findings, the then Director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety submitted his own judgment. The renegade judge placed him on a 25-year-long registry of Arizona Child Abusers. As a result, they destroyed his career.
“I Am The Law!”
The ability of the Department of Child Safety to just enter someone into a registry that marks them as a child abuser for decades without any administrative process makes the department judge, jury, and executioner. The fact that a DCS director can ignore the finding of an administrative judge and destroy a man’s career based on what seems only his opinion seems to directly violate the due process of the rights of defendants set forth in the United States Constitution.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new with these organizations. And the judges and police are no exception. They frequently ignore evidence and choose to dictate things according to their own rules, rather than the rule of law. It’s a problem that runs rampant throughout all of Arizona. And it’s why we are where we are today.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety Has Not Improved Enough
It seems like the new-and-improved Arizona Department of Child Safety isn’t as improved as they would like us to believe. At least for now, it’s fair to say they have improved upon form and function. However, success by any measure can also be a slippery slope to apathy. Honestly, it doesn’t take much. It would be easy for them to end up in the same situation CPS was in.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety has a long road ahead of them. The growing problem of child abuse & neglect is no place to cut corners. Furthermore, I believe that DCS needs to be open about the challenges it faces. Why? Not trying to hide backlogs or sweep issues under the rug will improve their relationship with the public. That will be the only way that the Arizona Department of Child Safety can win the public’s support.
Help Us Fight the Good Fight
Costs to document this historical government tragedy have been excessive. However, they are far from over. Our personal expenses to fight the powers that continue to victimize our children and their families have exceeded over $1,000,000. They continue to grow by the day. In order to save face, the state of Arizona continues to blame the victims of corruption. They do so at great damage to their reputations and credibility.
Any contribution you can make to aid our cause is most appreciated. You can donate to Saving Grace Advocates using the link provided. Please help us fight Arizona CPS corruption. Help us bring justice to the families and children who have suffered at their hands. Thank you for your continued support and contributions.