PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted Tuesday for an immediate cash infusion for the state’s troubled child- welfare agency.
SB 1224 would provide more than $5.7 million more to the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services, the replacement for what until now has been Child Protective Services. The legislation also reallocates $1.1 million from elsewhere in the state budget.
Senate President Andy Biggs acknowledged that is far less than Gov. Jan Brewer said earlier this month is necessary to have the agency running properly. But Biggs said it should take care of the most pressing needs, with the governor’s other requests to be dealt with in the budget for next fiscal year.
Biggs said the new funding will allow the agency to immediately hire 126 new caseworkers. That’s on top of the 1,195 already authorized.
It also will pay for support staff and supervisors.
Tuesday’s unanimous vote of the Senate Appropriations Committee came despite concerns by Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria. Murphy, who has had run-ins with CPS over adopted and foster children, said he has seen no evidence that simply creating a new agency will remedy the long history of problems with the agency’s operations, and its lack of responsiveness to lawmaker and public concerns.
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable giving one more dime to CPS until they have that kind of accountability,” he said.
Charles Flanagan, named by Gov. Jan Brewer to head the new agency, said that will change. He said just the fact that this will be an agency reporting directly to the governor will mean “a greater level of scrutiny and fewer levels of bureaucracy.”
But Murphy was not convinced more caseworkers are the answer.
He said there are entirely too many incidents where caseworkers overreact and decide the easiest thing to do after a complaint of abuse is to remove a child from a home.
Murphy knows something about that: CPS last year temporarily removed four of his adopted daughters from his home. That followed a complaint to police by his adopted son, subsequently recanted, which alleged abuse during a church retreat.
Two foster children in his home were also removed and not returned.
Murphy said there are many cases in which most people would agree children never should have been taken in the first place.
“That makes me question: Do we really need to go out and hire a whole bunch of new people if that’s the kind of thing that’s going on?” he said.
and it’s widespread, or do we need to get priorities in line?’’ he asked.
Flanagan said that there are probably situations where caseworkers have taken children where it might have been preferable to keep the family together and offer some services.
“But the problem is, when you’re overworked, you make the easiest possible decision for you right then,” he told lawmakers.
But the other side of the issue, Flanagan cautioned, is, “If you don’t take a child from a home, and then there are repetitive field investigations, and all of a sudden there’s a dead baby,” it becomes the fault of CPS, he said.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate.