Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday that lawmakers should believe her plan to fix the state’s child welfare system is right “because I’m behind it.”
Brewer acknowledged there have been many attempts to fix what until now has been Child Protective Services. The governor said she knows about many of them, having been elected to the Legislature herself more than three decades ago.
But the governor, in an interview with Capitol Media Services, said this time is different. And she said if legislators are unsure when they return to the Capitol today to consider her plan, they should rely on her personal involvement in crafting it.
“I think that I am dedicated, I am very motivated after dealing with this as an elected official for over 33 years,” Brewer said. “We are through with Band-Aids, we are through with turning a blind eye.”
And the governor said that the issue finally has gotten the attention it needs from not only lawmakers but also the public.
“They want it fixed,” Brewer said.
“This is our opportunity,” she continued. “We’ve pulled the scab off and we started fresh.”
That fresh start is essentially blowing up CPS as it has existed for decades and creating what the legislation proposes to be called the new Department of Child Safety.
But the legislation does far more than create a freestanding state agency headed by a Cabinet-level official who reports directly to the governor. It does a major rewrite of existing laws on how complaints of abuse and neglects are supposed to be reported, investigated and tracked.
That last point became a hot-button issue after it was discovered last fall that more than 6,500 complaints coming into the agency over several years had not been investigated. Six employees with links to that practice have been fired, though they have said those higher up had approved the plan as a way of dealing with an increasing workload.
But the fact the practice could stay hidden for so long – and was discovered almost by accident – has led to plans to create a data system that not only tracks each case but is accessible to all caseworkers. The legislation also establishes a separate inspections bureau to ensure that all policies are being obeyed.
There also are new protocols to figure out which cases require being followed up as criminal matters.
All that, however, comes with a price tag: An extra $60 million infusion to the agency, on top of $59 million lawmakers voted just last month to provide for the coming year. All that is in addition to nearly $65 million added in funding for the current year.
Brewer said her funding request is justified.
“It was very diligently compiled, those figures, of what it was going to take to get this agency established and turned around, and for us to be able to take care of those children,” the governor said. “And I believe, conservatively, that is the dollars that we need.”
One thing that could be an issue for some lawmakers is the fact that they have not seen the exact language of the bill. But the governor said she is not concerned, saying House and Senate leaders have been given a “draft” of the plan to share with their members ahead of today’s start.
“I don’t think it’s going to change much,” she said, saying that the response so far to the concepts that were unveiled last week are positive.
“Hopefully, we’ll get in there and get out within a couple of days,” Brewer said.