A Democratic attack ad is pushing Republican congressional candidate Andy Tobin to defend his record on Child Protective Services.

The television ad that ran in the Tucson and Phoenix markets claimed, “Tobin voted to cut Child Protective Services, eliminating 159 caseworkers and investigators. Over 900 reports of child abuse and neglect went uninvestigated.”

“These are our most vulnerable kids, and Andy Tobin turned his back on them,” the ad concludes.

Tobin said the ad, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, distorts his record.

The Democratic committee has has spent at least $2.5 million on the District 1 race between Tobin and incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick since primary election day. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent a similar amount.

At a campaign stop in Oro Valley this week, Tobin said he’s proud of his record and he believes the attack ad “must mean they’re worried.”

“If they have to reach this far to destroy somebody’s credibility in order to win a seat, shame on them,” he said.

Tobin said he has done “good, decent work” on this issue.

He said he helped establish the new oversight committee that found the crisis in the first place. As speaker of the House, he was responsible for selecting some of the committee members last year.

Then, he said, he supported what he called the largest expansion of state government in decades “to make sure we had the right balance of law enforcement and services for our weakest in Arizona.”

The action created the new cabinet-level agency called the Arizona Division of Child Safety and Family Services. All 60 House members voted to pass the bill, he said.

“When we were given the number that we needed to fund to make sure our children were safe, we funded every single nickel,” Tobin told the Oro Valley audience.

Previously, the Legislature cut more than $30 million from Child Protective Services in 2009 and 2010, but began restoring funding in 2011. The agency received a budget increase each year since. The newly created Arizona Division of Child Safety and Family Services received $845 million.

Although the extra money has allowed the agency to hire new workers, struggles with employee retention are an ongoing problem, said David Higuera, Southern Arizona director of the Children’s Action Alliance.

There’s a strong correlation between the past budget cuts and the state’s child welfare problems, he said.

More kids were removed from their homes and placed in foster care because their parents didn’t have access to resources, and then the system became overwhelmed because CPS didn’t have enough staff or resources to handle the huge increase in cases, Higuera said.

The new agency is off to a good start, Higuera said, although it’s not entirely true the agency got the dollar amount it requested. Some funds for prevention programs were cut from the budget that ultimately passed.

“We hope that when the election’s over there is just as much attention paid to the fact that we can’t be short changing child protective services and we can’t be short changing struggling families,” Higuera said.

Legislative report cards issued by the Children’s Action Alliance gave Tobin grades ranging from 17 percent to 67 percent in recent years.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@tucson.com or 573-4251. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack