PHOENIX (AP) – Nearly 400 children have been removed from Arizona homes identified through thousands of child abuse and neglect reports that were ignored in recent years, according to new figures released by a special team created by Gov. Jan Brewer after the reports came to light in November.
The findings are from a team reviewing more than 6,500 reports that the state's Child Protective Services agency failed to investigate over the past four years. They show just how badly the state's child welfare authorities botched their reviews of incoming calls to an abuse hotline.
Most of the removals came before the uninvestigated cases were discovered when a subsequent abuse report was received. But since renewed investigations were launched in November, 36 cases resulted in the removal of 69 children.
"Surely, this underscores what the governor has said from the start, that every case needs to be investigated," Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Wednesday. "It is precisely why it is absolutely unacceptable that these cases were designated in a way that they would go uninvestigated."
State officials in November revealed that 6,554 reports generated by the state's child abuse hotline since 2009 had been ignored. The cases were closed as a team assigned to prescreen tips from the hotline tried to manage a soaring workload in field offices that do the investigations, according to the Department of Economic Security, the former parent agency to CPS.
Brewer removed CPS from oversight by the department Monday and set up a new cabinet-level department to handle child welfare. She plans to ask the Legislature to make CPS a stand-alone agency in an effort to increase transparency and oversight.
She named Charles Flanagan, head of the state Juvenile Corrections Department, to lead the agency. Flanagan oversees the so-called CARE team that's been reviewing the uninvestigated cases and assigning them to investigators.
The figures released late Tuesday show 249 of the reports have resulted in the removal of at least 385 children.
Most came before the ignored reports were discovered, after another report came into CPS about the family involved. Nearly 1,200 second reports led to 213 removals involving at least 316 children.
Since the reports were discovered, investigators have removed an additional 69 children identified through 36 reports.
More than 175 CPS workers are assigned at least part time to the CARE team. Flanagan said last week they are mainly supervisors without normal caseloads who volunteered to take on the task along with their regular duties.
"They care greatly, and they work very, very hard to make sure these children are safe," he said.
Five senior CPS workers are on leave as an investigation by the Department of Public Safety into who authorized the action is conducted. The agency has declined to name them.
They were part of a team that intercepted incoming hotline reports and reviewed them for priority level before they were sent to field workers. The idea was to cut out cases that didn't meet investigation thresholds to ease the burden on an overworked staff.
But state law requires investigations in all cases where hotline reports are written, and even the low priority given to the closed cases shows all needed to be reviewed, said Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, who is on the review team led.
"Clearly today's priority three and four is tomorrow's priority one," she said. "You cannot not investigate reports. You just can't. It's not fathomable in this system."
The second part of Flanagan's job is to come up with recommendations that will prevent a recurrence of the issue at CPS and put in place greater controls. He promised those will be delivered to Brewer by the end of January.
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