Why did Governor Jan Brewer finally shut down Arizona CPS? In November 2013 the Republican governor faced public outrage as it was revealed that Arizona’s child welfare agency had failed to investigate over 6,500 reports of child abuse and neglect. However, that was not an accurate figure. Now, those numbers may be as high as 10,000-15,000 children.
A few weeks later, thousands of documents containing confidential records about children suffering from abuse and neglect were discovered. Mysteriously dumped in a Phoenix alleyway. By the time Governor Jan Brewer’s 2014 state of the state address rolls around in January she announces her plans to shut down Arizona CPS. And it was about time! The organization was a mess in every sense of the word. Terrible management. Inexperienced staff. High turnover. The works! After all, thousands of children and families suffered at their hands. Incompetence and disinterest reigned supreme.
So how could thousands of child abuse and neglect cases be overlooked? Especially by the organization directly tasked with doing so? The agency received thousands of calls about suspected cases of abuse and neglect. After the financial crash of 2008, the agency saw the number of calls increasing. And the numbers weren’t slowing. By 2011 there were 17,500 reports of mistreatment called into the hotline over a 6 month period. Finally, between October 2012 and March 2013, that number climbed again to 22,100 reported cases. However, CPS did everything in its power to create problems for families and harm the children in their care. It was clear. Someone needed to shut down Arizona CPS. Fast!
Arizona CPS – An Unfixable Mess
Arizona CPS was already struggling as an agency. They struggled with high staff turnover and employee burnout. In the two years that preceded the scandal, 67 Arizona children died from maltreatment. However, it was no accident that this occurred. CPS knew about the cases. Quite well, in fact. They simply chose not to act. Additionally, some had open cases, while others had been frequently closed. Caseworkers were overburdened, some handling as much as 75-80% more cases than state and federal guidelines suggest. This made it difficult for them to have the time to get to know families or properly investigate reports of abuse and maltreatment.
Sometimes when a caseworker quits, the cases in their charge become temporarily inactive while the agency struggled to reassign them. These inactive cases are sometimes upwards of 100. Additionally, many of the workers at CPS were also young, recent school graduates. Barely adults themselves, they lacked the life experience needed to assist families that were struggling with addiction, mental health issues, and poverty. Staff shortages were another issue. In July 2013 Pima county alone was short 40 caseworkers.
As a result, five senior agency workers lost their jobs. They unsuccessfully sued, claiming that they were to employees selected to review inactive cases, as their superiors struggled to reduce the caseload of their field workers. The workers argued that they were fired for political reasons and not for failing to do their jobs. Under state law, investigations were mandatory for all reports generated through the hotline. However, these five fired workers had improperly designated the cases as “N.I.” meaning “not investigated”. This was to help manage the heavy workload of already over-extended caseworkers, so they could focus on the most severe cases. Ultimately, Maricopa County Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit.
The Decision to Shut Down Arizona CPS
Governor Jan Brewer’s response to the scandal was to announce an executive order to shut down CPS. She set up a new Child Safety and Family Services division as an independent cabinet-level agency. Charles Flannigan would head up the temporary department. Together he and Governor Brewer, and her chief of staff worked for months to write legislation to overhaul the agency. Their proposal included budget increases to fund additional child welfare and criminal investigators. In an effort to reduce staff turnover they instituted bonuses for caseworkers who stayed with the agency past 18 and 36 months.
However, little would change. In fact, things would only get worse. In the years that followed, the organization that would come to be known as DCS (Department of Child Services) would also come under fire. Arizona CPS took major heat for claims of abuse of power and child neglect. Hopefully, the new organization would prove to be better. However, that was not the case. Arizona DCS would go on to be criticized for false allegations of abuse and neglect. Quite the reputation they were building. And in such a short amount of time.
But it gets worse. Their efforts were muddied by the fact that they allowed many guilty people to continue their employment with the new organization. Additionally, hardly anyone suffered consequences for their actions. As a result, many of the previous offenders transferred over to the DCS from CPS. And it’s no surprise that injustices continued to occur. In 2019, multiple lawsuits claimed the State of Arizona was to blame for its negligence. They alleged multiple counts of unlawful removal of a child and civil rights violations.
Solutions Still Needed
Child advocacy groups continue to call for long-term solutions. Early intervention and creating a larger network of support resources are necessary. It’s unlikely we will see lasting changes. Why? As it turns out, Brewer was indirectly to blame for the problem.
Democratic representatives like Arizona state House representative Chad Campbell were skeptical that Governor Brewer’s overhaul would create lasting change. His words have an eerie sense of foreshadowing of the struggles that were to come. “Quite frankly, her appointee that was heading up CPS is what got us in this mess in the first place,” he said in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2014. “Now she just did another appointee for what seems like a new entity without any input from us.”
And he wasn’t wrong. As we’ve seen Brewer’s efforts were completely in vain. I’d hate to say they were an empty gesture. That wouldn’t be fair. However, in typical political fashion, the root of the problems went unaddressed. Few suffered consequences for their crimes. And it wasn’t just CPS who was to blame. The bigger picture was, and still is, truly horrifying. Caseworkers. Judges. Police officers. Detectives. Counselors. Psychiatrists. Psychologists. The list goes on. In fact, the entire system was rotten to the core and still is today.
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 and bring justice to the families and children who have suffered at their hands. Thank you for your continued support and contributions.
Saving Grace Advocates