Spurred by a crisis over thousands of uninvestigated reports of abuse and neglect and the state’s inability to resolve a backlog of cases, Gov. Jan Brewer disbanded Child Protective Services, created a holdover agency and proposed a new department to focus solely on child welfare.
The idea is that a single entity, whose chief is directly answerable to the governor and which is sufficiently staffed and funded, would immediately begin to chip away at the backlog. More importantly, it would end the crisis that exposed just how helpless Arizona’s most vulnerable residents are.
And, in addition to confronting the most pressing problems, the creation of the new Department of Child Safety is being heralded as a new dawn for child welfare — a rebirth of sorts for the state’s most emotionally wrenching, complex and perennially plagued programs. It’s expected to usher in a cultural change — away from cynicism and overworked caseworkers and toward a more transparent, accountable and efficient department. Its goal would be to investigate every complaint that comes through its hotline and make wise decisions for Arizona’s abused and neglected children.
In short, the expectations are wildly high, setting up the potential for big disappointments later.
But for now, there is consensus at the Capitol that the $55 million being sought by the governor will go a long way toward the primary goal — to protect children.
Below is a cursory review of the major differences between the current child welfare system and what’s being proposed to replace it.