Monday, April 02, 2012

House Democrats continue to push for CPS reform and DES funding

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Months after the Arizona Child Safety Task Force identified more than 70 reforms needed in the child-welfare system, most of the serious reform bills remain mired in the legislative process and critical funding for Child Protective Services is in jeopardy.

House Democrats are working to implement some of the report’s recommendations and fighting to ensure Child Protective Services receives funding. CPS is facing a drastic budget shortfall because of the expiration of the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families fund.

Although much of Gov. Jan Brewer’s rhetoric has focused on improving CPS, little actually has been done by the Republicans in the legislature to support the overwhelmed child-welfare system. The Department of Economic Security allocated a large portion of TANF money to keep CPS operational. The proposed Republican budget fails to make up for that funding.

Unless the state budget replaces that loss, DES will have to cut CPS services, leaving children at risk. CPS is overburdened already. There are a record number of children in foster care at a time when there is a foster parenting shortage, on top of astronomical caseload growth and a high turnover rate among CPS workers. Several high-profile child abuse cases, including the deaths of four children involved in with CPS, prompted Brewer to create the task force.

House Minority Whip Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, (District 13), said House Democrats demonstrate their commitment to improving the child-welfare system by allocating $45.2 million to replace the loss of TANF funding.

“Since we will not be receiving federal TANF money, we have to provide additional support for DES,” Tovar said. “If we do not make up for this funding, DES will be forced to cut CPS programs. This could have tragic consequences.”

Tovar added that the House Democratic Budget proposal provides DES with enough money to keep current agency funding levels stable.

“The House Democratic Budget would ensure continued CPS services,” Tovar said. “It’s also the most realistic budget. It focuses on job creation, improving education while keeping vital programs, like CPS. House Democrats are tired of partisan bickering and would like work together with Republicans to get things done.”

House Democrats also are attempting to affect the reforms outlined in the task force report. A bill sponsored by Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix (District 15), that will help make Child Protective Services more efficient, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee today.

HB 2794 would eliminate the need for the Department of Economic Security to establish “removal review teams” to determine whether a child should be taken from a home because of abuse or neglect. Since 1998, juvenile courts have held preliminary protective hearings in cases involving the removal of children from abusive situations. This hearing negates the need for the removal review team.

“My bill increases CPS efficiency by cutting out a duplicative step in the process to determine if a child needs to be removed from a person’s custody,” Hobbs said. “This reduces some of the red tape involved in protecting children.”

Hobbs, who is also a social worker, sponsored the legislation after reading the task force report. Eliminating removal review teams was one of the report recommendations.

“By eliminating these teams, CPS will be better able to get children out of unhealthy environments and into welcoming and safe homes.” Hobbs said. “House Democrats are committed to helping CPS provide services.”

If DES does not receive state funding, the consequences would have a ripple effect for other agencies providing services to at risk children and families, according to Darlene Newsom, chief executive officer of UMOM New Day Centers, the state's largest homeless shelter for families.

"At UMOM we serve the most vulnerable families in our community. It is critical that DES and CPS continue to receiving funding. Cutting these services would have a domino effect that will devastate the very families UMOM is trying to help succeed," said Newsom.

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