Gov. Jan Brewer voiced her confidence in DES Director Clarence Carter today as she announced a special team to oversee the investigation of thousands of child abuse cases CPS disregarded under his watch.
Brewer said she believes there was a failure in the command of CPS that led to more than 6,000 cases that were classified as “NI,” or not investigated since2009, and she intends to get to the bottom of it and hold people accountable.
“We need a complete, full investigation and we need to know where all the bodies are buried, if you will, no pun intended,” Brewer said. “We’re not going to start attacking people until we know that we’ve got a basis to do that.”
Brewer’s statements came after a press conference in which she announced the formation of the eight-member special team, dubbed the Child Advocate Response Examination, or CARE. It will oversee the review of all the reports designated NI, and examine the CPS system and submit its findings to her.
The reports were phoned into the Child Abuse Hotline. Certain supervisors determined they weren’t worthy of investigation and pulled them from the CPS database before they made it to the desk of an investigator.
Brewer’s team is led by Charles Flanagan, director of the Department of Juvenile Corrections. It includes Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Phoenix Democrat, and Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican, both of whom are on the CPS Oversight Committee. Carter is also on the team. So is Det. Greg McKay, the Phoenix homicide investigator on loan to CPS who discovered all of the uninvestigated cases.
The special team adds to the number of investigations already underway to address the failure. Among others, the Department of Public Safety is going to investigate how the NI designation, which is not authorized in rule or statute, came to be.
McKay said on Nov. 21 that he had been able to pinpoint the unofficial policy to brief periods in 2009 and 2011 as cost-saving measures, but the practice of not investigating reports became rampant in 2012 and 2013.
The CPS staff is also in the middle of reviewing the uninvestigated cases and plans to finish by Jan. 31.
Brewer said the purpose of the special team is to make sure each of the uninvestigated reports is thoroughly investigated.
“Moreover, it serves to restore public trust in the child welfare system,” Brewer said.
Since the Nov. 21 revelation, many have called for more funding and legislative solutions.
Scott Smith, Brewer’s chief of staff, said Brewer could push legislative proposals in the upcoming session based on the CARE Team’s findings.
“We would expect, with them being involved in this process, that they will see things from a personnel standpoint, an operations standpoint, a process standpoint. We would expect them to bring those to light and, if there are deficiencies, then make recommendations,” Smith said.
In its annual budget request in September, DES asked Brewer for an additional $4.6 million for the Office of Child Welfare Investigations. The figure was part of requested $212 million budget increase for the agency.
Smith said the Governor’s Office will evaluate the request. But it would be irresponsible to draw up budget plans for CPS without first knowing the findings of the CARE Team and the Department of Public Safety’s investigations, especially considering that the DES budget request was made before the uninvestigated cases came to light.
“I think we will look to hear from the DPS administrative review and this CARE Team. And their input, I think, will be essential as we evaluate the DES and CPS budget request moving forward,” Smith said.
Charles Flanagan (Chair), Director Arizona Department of Corrections
Deb Gullett, Child Advocate
Jan Strauss, Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police (Former Mesa Chief of Police)
Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee
Rob Bell, Child Help
Greg McKay, director Office of Child Welfare Investigations
Cindi Nannetti, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office