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Staff: Arizona child welfare head knew of problems

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Several employees testified that the director who supervised Arizona child welfare workers knew about uninvestigated child abuse cases back in 2011, the Arizona Republic reported Thursday.

At least four workers said that Clarence Carter was informed about thousands of reports of child abuse and neglect that had gone without a state-mandated investigation.

Carter testified to Department of Public Safety investigators that he first learned in November that some cases were being labeled “not investigated.”

Officials fired five senior child welfare employees last week, charging that they orchestrated a plan that led to more than 6,500 state child abuse and neglect cases being closed without investigation. The firings were the first major personnel action since the cases were discovered in November.

Some have questioned why Carter, who led the now dismantled Child Protective Services under the state Department of Economic Security, was not disciplined after the discovery.

“As leader of the organization, he should have known about that,” said Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, a Democrat and member of the Child Protective Services Oversight Committee.

Carter stands by his testimony, Department of Economic Security spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said Thursday.

“As verified in the independent administrative review conducted by DPS, Director Carter maintains he had no knowledge about the (not investigated) process and was outraged and deeply troubled when he learned the practice was being conducted,” Peterson said.

State police completed a 1,200-page report into what led to cases phoned into a state hotline not being investigated starting in late 2009. The discovery of the cases led Gov. Jan Brewer to pull Child Protective Services from its parent agency and create a new state child welfare agency led by Charles Flanagan. Although Carter was removed from overseeing any child welfare matters, Brewer has defended him.

In December, Brewer said Carter was doing a good job even as the magnitude of the neglected cases grew.

There was nothing in the report implicating Carter, Flanagan said. “I can tell you I did not find any physical evidence … that he was involved in any of the electronic documentation back and forth,” Flanagan said.

According to the report, Sharon Sergent, the deputy director of programs at the Department of Economic Security who was fired by Carter last week, said she met with Carter in 2011 to talk about the not investigated, or NI, process. Sergent also said that she and Carter spoke after a 2011 meeting with staffers, where the use of the NI designation was discussed.

The report shows Jacob Schmitt, a former administrator of the Child Welfare Program, shared a plan for a triage of unassigned child abuse and neglect reports that included a “non investigated option.” Schmitt was told by his supervisor that Carter and Sergent were already aware of the plan.

Flora Sotomayor, the assistant director of the Division of Children, Youth and Families, told Department of Public Safety investigators that Carter was at a meeting where workers discussed replacing the term “not investigated” with “assessment” in a semi-annual report on child welfare.

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Democrat who serves on a task force that Brewer put together to review how to improve child welfare services, said the report would have found any evidence that Carter was at fault.

“The only thing I know is the Governor’s Office has assured everyone they have looked into Carter’s role in all this,” Taylor said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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