STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix (District 15), is calling on Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, R-Paulden (District 1), and Senate President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott (District 1), to convene the Child Protective Services Oversight Committee and fulfill an obligation to find solutions for the challenges the agency is facing. Recent reports that CPS is nearly 500 employees short of meeting caseload standards and data from the Department of Economic Security showing the detrimental effects of an overwhelmed CPS system prompted Hobbs to make this call to action.
The CPS Oversight Committee, created by HB 2249, is mandated to identify areas of improvement for the agency and make recommendations by Nov. 15, 2012. To date, the committee, which comprises several state legislators, a representative from DES, a member of a law enforcement agency, a CPS caseworker, a foster parent, and a guardian, has not been created.
“This can’t wait,” Hobbs said. “CPS has a vital role in keeping Arizona kids safe. We need action now. We’re weeks away from a Nov. 15 deadline and the committee still does not exist. I am asking Speaker Tobin and President Pierce to fulfill their responsibilities, appoint bipartisan state legislators to this committee, and get to work immediately. Every moment we waste, we leave children in jeopardy.”
An Arizona Children’s Action Alliance analysis of DES data indicates that reports of child abuse and neglect have increased 24 percent since October 2009 and that CPS caseloads are too high – more than 50 percent above standards. Also, there are 37 percent more children in foster care since October 2009, while the number of foster homes is decreasing at an alarming rate.
“This year, we were able to work together to pass legislation that helps CPS become more efficient so that Arizona children would be better protected,” Hobbs said. “It wasn’t enough. Clearly, there is still much work that needs to be done. Finding resources for the overwhelmed CPS system must be a priority.”
Hobbs was referring to HB 2794, a bill she proposed, which enacted several of the recommendations outlined in a 2011 report from the Arizona Child Safety Task Force. The CPS Oversight Committee is to pick up where the task force left off. HB 2794 received broad, bipartisan support. It recently went into effect and does the following:
• Defines domestic violence as a crime against children if a child is present during an altercation.
• Requires a peace officer to determine if a minor is present when responding to a domestic violence call.
• Requires a peace officer to conduct a child welfare check to determine if the child is safe or if the child might be a victim of domestic violence or child abuse when responding to a domestic violence call.
• Ensures there are no court orders in other states prohibiting a parent/guardian from seeing a child before the parent/guardian is allowed to see the child in Arizona.
• Requires DES and each county attorney to submit a separate annual report regarding joint CPS investigations.
• Requires that joint investigation CPS reports be independently prepared and submitted without collusion between agencies.
“We made some progress this year,” Hobbs said. “We still have a long way to go. As long as CPS lacks the resources needed to address the growing caseloads, children will be in danger and that is unacceptable.”
For more information on the task force report and to see the recommendations, go to https://www.azdes.gov/main.aspx?menu=10&id=7197. To see the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance analysis of DES data, go to http://www.azchildren.org/display.asp?pageId=75&parentId=23. To see additional coverage of this topic, go to http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2012/09/06/20120906arizona-cps-staffing-turmoil-dire.html.