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Child safety group: Focus CPS improvements on prevention

Dana Wolfe Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance, speaks with reporters after addressing Democratic lawmakers on the needs of Arizona Child Protective Services. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Kirsten Adams)

Dana Wolfe Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance, speaks with reporters after addressing Democratic lawmakers on the needs of Arizona Child Protective Services. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Kirsten Adams)

An advocacy group urged Democratic lawmakers Tuesday to focus on prevention as a key to curbing a state crisis in child safety.

In a presentation at the Capitol, representatives of the Children’s Action Alliancesaid they approve of Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to increase funding for Child Protective Services. But they said families need more help before problems turn into crises.

“If we don’t do anything for prevention, we will be in the same place one year from now that we are today,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, the group’s president.

She called the governor’s budget proposal a stepping stone, adding that cuts in the past few years have created a roller coaster effect leaving families uncertain about which CPS services were still available.

Brewer has called for a boost of more than $60 million in CPS funding that would, among other things, increase staffing and provide assistance for Arizona’s foster care system.

“Governor Brewer’s steps are vital steps in the right direction – a small piece of the puzzle, but a very important piece,” said Beth Rosenberg, Children’s Action Alliance director of child welfare and juvenile justice policy.

She said part of the reason for continued child safety problems is community leaders ignoring the other puzzle pieces.

“Child safety isn’t only up to the staff of CPS,” Naimark said. “It’s a community responsibility. It’s an elected official responsibility.”

The presentation broke down each step of the CPS decision-making process to show the lawmakers a sharp increase of neglect reports coming into the agency and a high number of cases remaining open.

According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, more than half of the investigations of CPS reports made in July 2012 remained open five months later.

The fact that cases aren’t closing in a timely manner “honestly keeps me up at night,” Naimark said.

She warned lawmakers that the current equation for CPS doesn’t work, calling growth in the agency “unsustainable.”

Rosenberg said prevention is the key ingredient missing from Brewer’s proposal.

“The proposal, though significant, just helps the agency tread water,” she said.

A call to Brewer’s office seeking a comment on the group’s points wasn’t returned by Tuesday afternoon.

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