The governor’s selection of the Child Advocate Response Examination Team is the right step. Particularly gratifying is the selection of Charles Flanagan to chair the team. Flanagan, director of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, is the most articulate and skilled child advocate in the governor’s cabinet.
Prior to any special sessions or requests for money, the CARE team must carry out its assignment both comprehensively and expeditiously.
The cycle we find ourselves in is all too familiar. Exposure, outrage, demands, minor changes, maybe even some new resources allocated, a period of waning interest and repeat. The cycle may be set off by a horrific incident, series of incidents or, as in the current situation, exposure of egregious errors of omission or commission.
CPS’s performance becomes news usually in the negative; its thick catalog of saved lives and averted crises is rarely newsworthy. The heroic actions of many dedicated workers are desecrated by the actions or inactions of its leadership and the sheer volume of its workload that inevitably results in children slipping through cracks with tragic consequences.
The response to the current crisis should include a stepping back to view the status of children in this state from a broader perspective, specifically, that child protection be seen not solely as the duty of one agency but as the obligation of all of us in the public and private sector. Children in danger is not just a problem for a DES director but should also be accepted as an acute crisis for the business, education, health care, law enforcement, justice and faith communities.
It is often said that it takes a village to raise the child, but the reverse is more compelling. It takes a child to raise the village. The peril of children should activate not only outrage at one agency but action at all levels.
Children are being ravaged in this state by poverty, violence, substance abuse and mental illness. Some, not the majority, come to the attention of CPS. Six thousand cases not investigated is but the tip of the iceberg of pervasive and systemic societal problems that face children every day.
I hope the CARE team will consider some bold ideas so that we can interrupt the cycle noted above. The public sector is currently in many silos that struggle to communicate with one another and often work at cross purposes. Let’s consider aggregating those services directed at children and create a separate Department of Youth Services that reports directly to the governor. Let’s, for instance, put CPS, juvenile justice, behavioral health services for all children, child care, licensing of services, early childhood programs, public health prevention and intervention programs under its direction.
Let the private sector come forward and partner with a newly formed Department of Youth Services to provide as many of these services as is practical with the central values being rapid response, coordination of care and comprehensive intervention and treatment. Since poverty is the No. 1 school performance problem, school districts must become full partners in this plan as well, for it is at school where children’s challenges are often first exposed. They will need resources to respond effectively.
The CARE team has the opportunity to, on the one hand, lower the rhetoric, and on the other, to raise the stakes to actually do something for children in this state that will offer long-term solutions to these complex problems.