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CPS forum – Messages offer a ray of hope that could lead to reforms

Child Protective Services Oversight Committee members From left; Dana Wolfe Naimark, Arizona State Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, Arizona State Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor and Arizona State Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, listen as concerned citizen speaks during a public forum intended to solicit ideas on improving the Child Protective Services agency amid revelations that more than 6,500 child abuse and welfare reports were illegally closed without an investigation, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Child Protective Services Oversight Committee members From left; Dana Wolfe Naimark, Arizona State Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, Arizona State Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor and Arizona State Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, listen as concerned citizen speaks during a public forum intended to solicit ideas on improving the Child Protective Services agency amid revelations that more than 6,500 child abuse and welfare reports were illegally closed without an investigation, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Speakers at a Dec. 3 CPS Community Forum stepped to the microphone three minutes at a time for two hours to deliver old news: Foster parents get no respect,  caseworkers are overworked and underpaid, and the Legislature is tight-fisted.

Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, the organization that hosted the forum, left gratified, however, and confident that the latest failure of Child Protective Services – not investigating about 6,500 child abuse reports — will lead to real reforms.

The difference this time is going to be the newly formed legislative CPS Oversight Committee, which she said will look at the big picture and work with the governor.

Department of Economic Services Director Clarence Carter revealed Nov. 21 that CPS supervisors have been declaring reports to the Child Abuse Hotline unworthy of investigation since 2009. The reports were given a designation of NI, for not investigated, before they could reach the desks of field supervisors for assignment to caseworkers.

The NI classification is not codified in law or policy.

Governor Jan Brewer on Dec. 2 appointed a special team of lawmakers, juvenile justice workers and child advocates to oversee the work of CPS as it investigates the disregarded cases. The Child Advocate Response Examination team, or CARE, will give Brewer recommendations for improving CPS and preventing situations like the NI problem from happening again.

There was hardly a mention of the disregarded cases at the community forum.  One exception was when Department of Juvenile Corrections Director Charles Flanagan, who is chairing CARE, introduced himself to the crowd of roughly 320 people and gave them a summary of the team’s mission.

Speakers were given three minutes each to give their suggestions for improving the agency. Their ideas touched on all of the agencies under the Division of Children, Youth and Families, which covers child abuse prevention, health care for foster children, and foster children and adoption.

Naimark and Flanagan said the overriding message they heard was that more attention has to be paid to child abuse prevention and CPS’ partnership with nonprofits for providing services.

Flanagan said members of CARE have heard those themes before, but the team is going to consider everything that was said in the forum as it forges its recommendations to the governor. He said fixing CPS will take more than mere reorganization of the staff.

“You can’t just make a recommendation for administrative changes to the organization (CPS) or an organizational-chart change that is really going to change the system and the process,” Flanagan said.

Three members of the legislative oversight committee were on hand to listen: Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican, Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Phoenix Democrat, and Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, a Phoenix Democrat. Brophy McGee and Landrum Taylor are also members of CARE.

Landrum Taylor noted that what she heard isn’t new.

“What needs to occur is to not do the same thing and to expect a different result. We know what that equation equals,” Landrum Taylor said.

A host of leaders from nonprofits, foster parents and former CPS caseworkers took their turn at the microphone in the 1920s-era building in Steele Indian School Park.

Foster parent Kymberly Yvon of Glendale cheered and clapped when other foster parents explained that there is poor communication between CPS and foster parents, that they are looked at with suspicion from caseworkers and that their opinions aren’t given much weight.

“Nobody is taking you into account, but you’re the one with the child 24 hours a day,” said Yvon, who has cared for 11 children over four years.

Yvon, who reeled off her frustrations with CPS to a reporter, didn’t get a chance to give the lawmakers her two cents. She left the forum a bit skeptical.

“You don’t know how much of this is show and how much of this is words turned into action,” Yvon said.

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