After its appointment on Dec. 2, Gov. Jan Brewer’s CARE Team released its first report detailing its progress over the last two months. Here are a few main takeaways:
— 6,554 cases had been designated as “not assigned.”
— 100 percent of those cases are now assigned to a caseworker; 60 percent of them are being actively worked.
— Workers have removed more than 400 children because of safety concerns.
— Cases designated as “not assigned” were a result of “systemic failure, a lack of accountability and transparency and bad decision-making.”
— The agency currently sees about 10,000 hours of new case work come in each week; the agency employs enough full-time employees to cover less than 8,000 hours of new case work per week.
— Team suggests the creation of an agency that is “laser-focused” on ensuring child safety, which would report directly to the governor.
— Suggests better coordination between the Office of Child welfare Investigations and law enforcement to improve the efficiency of the agency’s hotline, which currently abandons 26 percent of the calls it receives.
— Suggests the creation of a “rigorous inspections bureau” to maintain quality assurance.
Following the release of the report, a number of administrators in the child care arena and state lawmakers offered their thoughts on the CARE Team’s progress. Most said they were pleased with the headway the team has made in the last two months.
“I was very impressed with how much they did in such a short period of time,” said Eric Schindler, president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Resources. “It was very nice to see that all of the cases that had not been investigated are now accounted for.”
David Higuera, the director for the Southern Arizona office of the Children’s Action Alliance, also said his organization was pleased with the report, but added that the ultimate goal was seeing CPS used strictly as a final means for situations when the child was unsafe staying with the family.
“They identified the various capacity issues that exist within CPS … so we think they did a good job of that,” Higuera said, adding that his organization continues to work with legislators to keep families out of the CPS system.
Most agreed that this was only the start of a process that needed to continue if Child Protective Services would stay on the right track. Rep. Ethan Orr added that a further breakdown of where CPS had fallen short, including comparisons to other, similar state services across the country. Doing so, he said, would help to find out where the resources aren’t being used efficiently.
“I think that it needs to have a very serious focus; we need to increase the funding but with that funding, you need to have some very serious accountability measures,” Orr said. “For example, one of them is the five-year retention rate of case workers. How does that compare to the national averages? … I think what is happening is a start, but I certainly don’t see this as anywhere near being finished.”