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Home / agencies / Old and new: A comparison of Arizona’s child welfare strategies

Old and new: A comparison of Arizona’s child welfare strategies

sad-child-620Spurred 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.

Current system

Proposed system

Structure

Before it was disbanded, CPS was a unit under the Division of Children, Youth and Families within the Department of Economic Security.

DCS is a new cabinet-level agency whose director reports directly to the governor and assumes the functions of DES director in implementing child welfare programs.

Purpose

Investigate allegations of abuse and neglect; promote children’s well-being in a permanent home; coordinate services to strengthen the family; prevent, intervene in and treat abuse and neglect.

Investigate reports of abuse or neglect; promote a child’s well-being in a safe and stable family or other placements in response to allegations of abuse or neglect; cooperate with law enforcement on reports that include criminal conduct allegations; coordinate services to achieve permanency on behalf of a child, strengthen the family, and provide prevention, intervention and treatment.

Functions

Department of Economic Security retains control over aging and adult services, TANF, development disabilities, and employment and rehab services.

DCS absorbs adoption services, in-home preventive support services, out-of-home support services, CPS emergency and residential placement, independent living maintenance, foster care placement, intensive family services, permanent guardianship subsidy, grandparent stipends, licensing.

Staff size

2,761 full time employees

3,045 full time employees

Total annual budget

$725 million

$845 million

Office of Child Welfare Investigations

Created within DES in 2012 to focus on allegations involving criminal conduct.

Continues to focus on allegations involving criminal conduct, but now operates under DCS; OCWI chief reports to the DCS director.

Inspections Bureau

No equivalent in current statute.

Part of efforts to ensure healthy oversight, the Inspections Bureau, which is established under DCS, is tasked to ensure that policies and procedures are followed by staffers in accordance with federal and state laws, and to notify the DCS director of violations; Inspector General reports to the DCS director.

Community Advisory Committee

No equivalent in current statute.

The Community Advisory Committee is a formal forum to engage the new department and collaborate with various stakeholders, including child advocates.

Oversight Committee

Established by law in 2012, the CPS Oversight Committee was tasked to identify areas of improvement and recommend changes.

Modifies the oversight committee’s core task to include recommendations on the membership and duties of any future legislative committee to oversee DCS.

Audit

Typically done by the Auditor General’s Office.

Requires the Auditor General’s Office to contract with a consultant to examine the current child welfare system and focus on creating accountability mechanisms .

Backlog

14,777 cases as of April; the trend shows the backlog is growing.

Provides funding for overtime, out-of-home care placement and support services to deal with the backlog.

Hotline

Child Abuse Hotline served as gateway for alerting CPS about cases of neglect and abuse.

Codifies a centralized hotline system, which acts as the first phase of the investigation process; requires hotline workers to report to law enforcement when they suspect a criminal offense; mandates DCS to train staff to use uniform risk assessment tools in determining severity of reports; embeds a staffer from both OCWI and the Inspections Bureau in the hotline unit.

Training 

CPS investigators received training in forensics and the legal implications upon contact with children and families

Continues training in forensic interviews and processes, but adds layers of learning, such as training on uniform safety and risk assessment tools and a checklist during each investigation.

Investigation

CPS workers were mandated to make a prompt and thorough investigation after receiving a report.

Continues this mandate, but emphasizes the need to report to law enforcement and OCWI if a criminal offense is suspected.

Child care subsidy

Zero state funding for low-income families.

Allocates $4 million for low-income families.

Legal counsel

Employed the services of the Attorney General’s Office.

Allows DCS to employ its own legal counsel to provide advice and provides funding for it; requires the Attorney General’s Office to still represent the department in administrative or judicial proceedings.

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