CPS in Arizona is in greater crisis and chaos than any time in memory. A perfect storm of recessionary budget cutbacks, historical neglect, increasing referrals, neglected cases and backlog, an out-of-control foster care caseload, and chaotic management have put thousands of children at risk, left families without support, and created an unprecedented crisis for Arizona’s vulnerable children without any clear vision or immediate resolution in sight.
There is a great opportunity in this terrible crisis to finally do what is necessary for Arizona’s children and families.
There is no doubt that CPS requires substantial additional resources, new and significantly improved management and structural reforms to address the historical neglect and increasing demands upon CPS. However, CPS cannot be separated from its larger context of the needs of families to prevent and respond to domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, elder care, disability or the housing crisis. More than 65 percent of current CPS requests are for neglect. These children and families demand a larger comprehensive service response than just more caseworkers and criminal investigators.
The deep cuts to the health and human services safety net have all negatively impacted the CPS system. Without an adequate safety net, the CPS system does not have the broader community resources to do its assigned job for children with families. Moreover, families do not have the community support systems to avoid getting involved in the CPS system.
The solutions to CPS and child welfare reform are well known. The solutions must be grounded in evidence-based best practices from prevention and early intervention services to permanence planning. The solutions are systemic and include a generously funded health and human services safety net and community resources. Child Welfare and CPS policy and practice must not pit children against their families, but focus on the child in a safe, stable, permanent family context.
The dignity, complexity, and difficulty of the child welfare work and the worker must be honored through strong compensation and benefit packages. Professional child welfare management with deep and broad experience is necessary with provisions for long-term appointments after serious vetting.
While structural alternatives like a new department of “child welfare” must be considered along with all other reasonable alternatives, such structural options are not the panacea and final answer. Moreover, any movement toward a new or separate department must not result in the abandonment of the basic needs safety net or minimize any further commitments to assisting people who are poor and struggling, whether they are children, people with disabilities; elderly or children not involved in the CPS system. Reforming CPS must include investments to help eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness, and family violence as part of the preventive base of community supports to families in crisis.
Finally, there must be the sustained political will to invest in a quality child welfare system with a substantial long-term commitment to resources and professional management. CPS must not be abandoned once again with short-term politically expedient fixes without a long-term plan and promise to Arizona’s children and families.
— Timothy J. Schmaltz is coordinator and executive director of the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition (PAFCO).