Overhauling the Child Protective Services abuse hotline and adding police officers to work alongside the agency’s social workers are among the most important recommendations of the Governor’s Child Safety Task Force one of the panel’s co-chairs said Dec. 30 after the recommendations were released.
Gov. Jan Brewer created the task force after a series of high-profile child deaths this year. It crafted the recommendations after meeting three times and hearing testimony from police, child advocates, legal experts and the public.
Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, who co-chaired the task force along with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, said the hotline operators are going to be better trained in interviewing so they can better prioritize complaints to ensure caseworkers begin addressing the most serious cases as quickly as possible.
He said caseworkers often find out too late that cases should have been given a higher priority.
The hotline is also going to have a special line for police officers and case workers who are at the scene of a child abuse incident in order to provide expedited service.
The current system has a separate number for police, but it goes to the same queue of operators who are also answering calls from the public.
During testimony on Nov. 29, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said the hotline was very frustrating to police officers because they had to explain their situation to three different people before a case worker responded: a hotline worker, a CPS manager and a case worker.
CPS managers rejected a proposed solution to the problem, so detectives and case workers simply exchanged cell phone numbers, Polk said.
Montgomery pushed for separating CPS’s investigative functions from its responsibilities of delivering social services and working with families.
He achieved that, in a way.
Carter said he wants to see a cadre of police officers work alongside the case workers.
“They are two different orientations,” he said.
The police officers would make sure all of the bases are covered on the criminal track, while the social workers would work at protecting the child and preserving the family, if possible.
He estimated the agency will ultimately need about 50 police officers, but he is going to ask for between 15 and 20 in the next fiscal year.