David Higuera: Brewer, lawmakers must provide enough money to protect our kids

2014-05-21T00:00:00Z David Higuera: Brewer, lawmakers must provide enough money to protect our kidsBy David Higuera Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The nearly 6,600 not-investigated cases of child abuse and neglect that drove Gov. Jan Brewer’s call to completely rebuild CPS this year illustrate the dire consequences of not investing adequately in what we proclaim to value — keeping our children safe and able to thrive.

When the Legislature convenes in the coming weeks for a special session to create the authorization and budget for what’s currently being called the new state Department of Child Safety, Arizonans will be watching to see if the Legislature and the governor are serious about protecting children.

The approved state budget for 2015 provided too little funding to hire critical Child Protective Services caseworkers and supervisors. If the special-session legislation does not close this gap, caseloads will continue to be far too high.

The budget provided too little to pay for family foster homes or emergency and residential placements for the expected number of children in foster care. This, too, must be addressed.

The governor and key legislators have stated publicly their commitment to provide adequate funding to meet the task at hand, and we are hopeful that the special session will lead to good outcomes for Arizona’s children.

It will be critical that we do the job right. Our kids can’t live with more mistakes or shortcuts.

We continue to call on the Legislature to fully equip the new Department of Child Safety to protect children from abuse and neglect, connect children with permanent homes, and strengthen families.

Anything less will simply re-create the failed systems that got us into this crisis.

It is important that there is not only adequate one-time funding to eliminate the current backlog — which has reached 14,777 cases — but also adequate baseline funding to make sure we stay on top of the caseload and don’t allow a new backlog to emerge.

Investing in family services and early intervention is also critical. We are advocating for additional resources toward effective early intervention and family support, including child-care assistance for low-income working families.

We know from the data that when the state limits access to affordable, quality child care, reports of abuse and neglect go up.

On the other hand, investing in early intervention and family services saves the state money and allows families to provide for their children, maintain employment and support our economy.

Director Charles Flanagan has emphasized prevention and early intervention as he creates the structure for the new Child Safety Department.

He is absolutely correct. The Legislature must provide him the resources necessary to do this right.

As important as it is that the Legislature act now, it is also important for the public to know that this won’t be fixed overnight.

But if the Legislature does what it should do this special session, we will be on the right track.

We know that legislators are listening, and we encourage everyone to contact Senate President Andy Biggs, House Speaker Andy Tobin and Gov. Brewer, and make sure they understand your priority to keep our children safe and help families succeed.

David Higuera is the Southern Arizona director for Children’s Action Alliance, an independent voice for Arizona children working to improve children’s health, education and security. Email him at dhiguera@azchildren.org

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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