Cost of Arizona child-welfare glitch is uncertain
Published: October 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm
It’s been a month since Arizona officials disclosed a massive computer error affecting thousands of Child Protective Services cases. Yet attorneys and state child-welfare officials still haven’t determined the full extent of the problem, how best to manage it or how much it will cost taxpayers.
Some doubt that any new records will change the outcome of an adoption or a child-dependency case, The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/S9Bf1J ) reported Thursday.
Attorneys representing parents and children in CPS cases say the state should help them find records that were withheld or at least give them a better sense of what might be missing.
More than 8,500 child-dependency cases are pending in county courts. Adoptions can no longer be challenged one year after they are finalized.
The Republic reported in mid-September that more than 30,000 people were notified that they may not have received all the documents to which they were entitled under state law. That was after a computer glitch kept some public records hidden from parents and their lawyers for more than 15 years.
The withheld information could include details of child abuse hotline reports, services provided to the family, and case notes from CPS workers and supervisors.
The missing records could prompt attorneys to reopen child-dependency, civil or criminal cases if it can be shown that the information would have changed the outcome.
The problem was discovered in June during an annual review of the agency’s public-disclosure practices, according to the Republic. An employee noticed that different sets of records were released to different parties in the same case.
Further review found the database system that tracks CPS cases had been programmed to print about one-third of the information considered public record under state and federal law. The programming error had been in place since the database was created in 1996.
State officials sent notices to more than 30,000 attorneys, parents, law-enforcement and media members and said that action alone satisfies the legal requirements for disclosure.
The Republic reported that the notices involve 11,336 separate records requests since August 2010. It explains that the Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, may have additional records and will make them available upon request.
“The rule requires that we make the information available for inspection or copying,” said Nicole Davis, chief counsel for the Child and Family Protection Division of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. “I think it’s (now) up to the lawyers. They have to determine what their legal obligation is.”
Some attorneys say that’s not good enough.
“I received about 250 of these letters. To me, it’s not a satisfactory letter,” said Joseph Ramiro-Shanahan, who represents parents and children in Dependency Court. “It doesn’t really address the disclosure obligations, which are on the state.”
So far, a beefed-up DES public-records staff has received 539 requests for additional information and completed 32. The withheld information could include details of Child Abuse Hotline reports, services provided to the family and case notes from CPS workers and supervisors.
The agency has hired six paralegals and redeployed four staff members to deal with the onslaught of records requests.
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