Friday, October 21, 2011

Panel won’t delve deeper into Arizona CPS woes

by Mary K. Reinhart on Oct. 21, 2011

An Arizona legislative committee, apparently satisfied that the state’s child-welfare agency has adequately responded to problems raised by three state audits since 2009, declined to delve deeper Thursday into broader troubles within the system.

Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, co-chair of the committee, said after the hearing that she wanted to see what comes from a child-safety task force before deciding whether to hold additional hearings on Child Protective Services. Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to name members of the task force in the next few days. Brewer wants recommendations from the task force by Dec. 31.

But during public testimony, several people said critical problems within the CPS need urgent attention.

“I think the system is struggling greatly – all aspects of the system,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, CEO of Children’s Action Alliance. “What we’ve heard today really doesn’t tell you the story of CPS.”

One of the audits, from September 2009, said the agency inconsistently reviewed relatives willing to take temporary custody of children and failed to properly document efforts to place children with relatives. The agency has since implemented specific guidelines for workers to assess the fitness of relatives and is still working on getting staff to better document efforts to find relatives.

About one-third of Arizona’s foster children live with relatives.

Clarence Carter, director of the Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, said in response to a question that grandparents and other relatives who take in foster children have access to all the services that unrelated foster families and shelter operators do.

“The fact that a child is placed with a relative doesn’t change the needs of that child,” Carter told Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix.

But Suzanne Schunk, director of family services for Southwest Human Development, told the committee that grandparents and other relatives don’t get the same support as foster parents. They aren’t paid to care for the kids, and they often can’t find services that the children need or can’t afford to pay for them, she said.

Landrum Taylor agreed.

“A lot of times they’re unable to do it, so it just doesn’t happen,” she said.

And Brenda Gloria of Phoenix, who cares for two grandchildren, said CPS caseworkers gave their parents too many chances. She said it was heartbreaking to have the children sent back home year after year, only to be removed and returned to her.

CPS supervisors also are reviewing a backlog of nearly 10,000 inactive abuse and neglect cases and trying out a streamlined investigation process that could shave weeks off the average case, which now takes five to six months to complete.


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