PHOENIX — A "systemic failure, a lack of accountability and transparency and bad decision making," are to blame for 6,500 cases of child abuse going uninvestigated, a special team reviewing the state CPS said in a report released today.
But it will be some time before the public finds out exactly who was responsible for shelving those calls to the agency without even the barest follow-up despite state laws requiring all complaints of abuse be investigated. That side of the problem is being investigated by the state Department of Public Safety.
This report, by contrast, comes from a panel put together by Gov. Jan Brewer, called the Child Advocate Response Evaluation team, to most immediately follow up on those 6,554 complaints that were not investigated.
What the team found is that many of these complaints should have gotten a much more thorough look. In fact, that follow-up resulted in 407 children now being removed from their homes.
But Brewer also asked the CARE team to figure out how best to prevent a repeat of what was an embarrassment to the administration.
Among the findings:
- Make better use of local police departments to help ensure that all complaints of abuse are investigated. The report calls law enforcement "a critical and underused partner.''
- Create "multi-disciplinary teams embedded in the community,'' to take a closer look at complaints. This would include not just law enforcement but also criminal investigators within the state's child welfare agency, social workers and others involved in offering social services.
- Provide better training to child safety specialists who will conduct field investigations. One option is to use existing community college law enforcement programs.
At least one of the recommendations already has been at least partly carried out.
The team said the state should "create an agency that is laser-focused on the core mission of child safety with direct accountability to the governor.''
Brewer already has effectively abolished the old Child Protection Services division of the Department of Economic Security and replaced it with the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services. She named Charles Flanagan, who also headed up the CARE team, to head the new agency. And he will report directly to her rather than the DES director.
Brewer now is asking the Legislature to complete the process by creating an entirely new department.
But the task force report also contains a controversial recommendation that when the current CPS employees are transferred to the new agency that they lose all of their merit protections that give them certain rights when a supervisor seeks to discipline or fire them. But Flanagan and the team say the change is justified, focusing on the other side of the equation: raises.
"Such a move would allow for the department to reward good employees for performance and provide incentive for retaining the best employees,'' the report reads.