Why Arizona Abolished Child Protective Services

A couple of days ago Gov. Brewer of this fine state abolished an entire state government agency: Child Protective Services.
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A couple of days ago Gov. Brewer of this fine state abolished an entire state government agency: Child Protective Services.
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by Tina Rhodes

A couple of days ago Gov. Brewer of this fine state abolished an entire state government agency: Child Protective Services.

She replaced it with a new one called “Child Safety and Family Services” and put a guy by the name of Charles Flanagan in the director’s position, current head of the AZ Department of Juvenile Corrections. This change by the Governor is most likely bad for Arizona, although one could also argue that things couldn’t have gotten any worse.

The tipping point for the Governor, beyond CPS’s well known longterm underperformance, was the fact that a review of their caseloads discovered that 6,000 cases that originated from the official hotline had not been investigated. This is as horrible as it sounds. It is also illegal because AZ laws says that those cases MUST be investigated. Nevertheless, what the news media is not reporting to the public is the context in which all this occurred.

CPS has, like most other state agencies, been purposely starved by the Republican Governor and Republican-led legislature.

Arizona is a conservative state and prides itself on low tax rates. Combine that with revenue plummeting due to the Great Recession that started in 2008 and from which we are just now recovering, and we ended up with very few funds for a lot of services. We are recovering though, thankfully. Experts are saying that Arizona revenue will have grown by 3.5% in Fiscal Year in 2013 and are predicting 5.3% in Fiscal Year 2014. In the end, we get what we pay for, and Arizona doesn’t pay for much.

However, even when times were good, state services were dismal. Here is just one example*: In 2006, the state had approximately 5% of the population living with serious mental illness and on average spent $157 per capita and assisted only 18% of the adults in need. In addition, an unusually low percentage of the money budgeted for mental health services, 7%, went to state hospital care -- the national average is 70%. This means that if you’re mentally ill in AZ and need assistance from the state you aren’t likely to get any and if you happen to end up homeless and mentally ill, there are no hospitals for you.

This again, follows a conservative trend to deinstitutionalize mental health treatment . This trend began in CA when Reagan was governor and when he was elected President he spread that policy nationwide with ramifications we are still feeling today. Suffice it to say, it’s part of the Republican strategy to starve government so that it will fail. And when services fail, because they’ve made it inevitable, they can say, “See government doesn’t work so let’s just do away with it.” Even now Arizona is projected to have a budget surplus but Republican state legislators are still preaching austerity. Here’s what Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills**) had to say back in October 2013 a couple of months before the most recent scandal.

Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said a more realistic snapshot would build in extra spending requests in the coming years, especially since the state has had a recent run of surpluses.

“A lot of people are asking for more spending,” Kavanagh said, ticking off requests he’s seen for Child Protective Services, wildfire management and roads.

If lawmakers spend even $150 million more a year over the state budget’s baseline for the next three years, he said, the deficit could balloon to $1.4 billion by June 2017.

That’s just theory at this point. Many involved in the budgeting process caution it’s hard to reliably predict revenue and spending more than a year ahead of time.

The point is that CPS was set up to fail. Having worked in law enforcement myself I am very familiar with how child protection services are supposed to work and the incredible burdens the very underpaid, under appreciated and over worked social workers have to contend with. I thought my caseload as a Probation Officer was bad until I found out about the social workers and what they had to deal with. At least with my active caseload of 150 felons in the community, which was about half of their active cases, the likelihood that anyone’s life and mental health really depended on what I did or didn’t do was low.

That’s not the case with CPS.

Many of the kids’ lives and mental and physical health are directly dependent upon CPS employees every single day. Needless to say the turnover for their employees is extremely high because morale is naturally horrible. High turnover rate means more down time and increased costs for training making CPS even more expensive to run than other agencies.

Of the 6,000 cases that were ignored, 125 were found to be actual cases of abuse and none of those were reported as fatalities. That’s about a 2% rate of actual abuse from Hotline cases. Ultimately this latest scandal is simply further proof that CPS could never have succeeded. This kind of agency faces enough of a challenge in our society without the extra burden of being starved financially.

So the Governor can create a new agency all she wants but it will still have the same mission, still have to draw from the same pool of underpaid and disillusioned social workers, and still have the same caseload pressures as before. Furthermore, the fact that she’s putting someone who has been involved with locking up kids and not saving them doesn’t bode well either.

In the end, the people that suffered and will continue to suffer are first and foremost the kids and second the overwhelmed CPS employees. I’m sure the Governor and the state Republican controlled legislature feels their hands are clean and on the surface it may appear they are lily white. Right now it appears that Gov. Brewer is sweeping in to save the day. That’s because they are willing to let that all roll downhill like they always do and the local news media and the voting public will let them get away with it yet again. For what it’s worth, at least some of us know the truth.

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*Another somewhat related example are the approximately 400 felony cases, some of which were sexual in nature and the victims were children, that went uninvestigated in the city of El Mirage. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was paid to investigate the crimes except they never were. Funny how Joe is still in office….why is MCSO even allowed to exist if CPS isn’t under the same circumstances? Why hasn’t El Mirage sued the holy bejeebers out of MCSO for unrendered services, fraud, theft, something….anything? Typical Arizona bullpucky to which the voters turn a blind eye.

**Fountain Hills is a VERY wealthy community to the East of Snottsdale where Sheriff “I serve green bologne to my inmates and have one of the highest correction death rates in the country” Arpaio happens to reside.