by Kyle Mittan
Residents filled the ballroom at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, leaving few open seats and not enough time to hear from everyone.
At the event, jointly hosted by the Children’s Action Alliance and Child & Family Resources and other sponsors, organizers aimed to emphasize the need for preventative services so that CPS would be a last resort. David Higuera, the Children’s Action Alliance Southern Arizona office director, said that funding these preventative programs should be a priority.
“I think the biggest goal for tonight is that the legislature and the governor hear the community when we say loudly and clearly that we think the state can and should be doing more to prevent kids from ever reaching the point where CPS ever needs to get involved,” Higuera said. “To help families succeed, to help families stay healthy and strong.”
The event began with an opening statement from District 16 Rep. Leah Landrum Taylor, who mentioned the progress that’s been made since Gov. Jan Brewer implemented her CARE team commissioned to investigate CPS and address the roughly 6,500 cases that the department has overlooked. The collaboration from law enforcement in municipalities across the state and other organizations, Landrum said, made their effort a success that needs to continue.
“As of yesterday, 100 percent of those cases have been assigned and the children have had the opportunity for someone to be able to go and check on their well-being,” she said.
Now, Landrum added, Brewer’s CARE team is searching for ways to ensure that no more cases are overlooked by CPS. Thursday’s forum sought input from the community, where speakers included single mothers, former CPS case workers and administrators for local family organizations.
Among the first to approach the microphone was Eric Schindler, president and CEO of Child & Family Resources. Schindler suggested a shift in how CPS partners with services like his organization to bring the services to the families that need them.
As it stands now, Schindler said, CPS and the Department of Economic Security decide which programs and services to offer. Then, organizations like Child & Family Services apply to offer those services. CPS, Schindler added, maintains control throughout much of the process.
“What we’re asking for is that it’s more of a partnership,” Schindler added. “In other states, there’s much more of a sense of, ‘We’re both sitting at the table solving a common problem.’ Here, there’s a sense of, ‘Behave well and partner with us the way we want to be partnered with.’ It’s as simple as that.”
A number of parents turned out to the forum, including Rebecca Hollenback, a mother of five who urged the community to work together to foster the well-being of everyone’s children. Doing so, Hollenback said, would take the burden off some agencies that have experienced funding cuts.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Hollenback said. “If we could just learn to support each others, it wouldn’t be so difficult to fall on the shoulders of the community and the cost to everybody. … I do not feel as though people can continue to use bad childhoods and lack of experience as a parent as an excuse to mistreat their children. There is no excuse.”
As the forum drew to a close, the seven legislators who turned out provided their thoughts following the call to the audience. Many agreed that the state has cut back on the programs that supported family stability. State Sen. Steve Farley, for example, pointed out that Gov. Jan Brewer's budget did not restore funding for daycare for low-income, working moms.
"Almost the entire amount of our increase of children who are in trouble is in neglect, not in abuse," Farley said. "Neglect is a direct result of parents not being able to have the money to put their kids in childcare. … We need to put money into programs that make sure kids are never in trouble in the first place."