Record Number of Kids in Foster Care, Staff Shortages Leave Arizona Child Welfare System Struggling For Solutions

Arizona’s Child Protective Services (CPS) is struggling to keep up with a record number of cases while turning over staff at a worrying rate, according to a new state report on CPS. The news comes despite promises of reform from state officials, including Governor Jan Brewer. The Associated Press reports:

The state’s Child Protective Services agency is 200 workers short of its approved staffing levels and remains 500 workers short of meeting state and national standards.

The most recent state report on CPS shows nearly one in three front-line workers has quit this year, according to the Arizona Republic. The number of children in foster care also continues to rise, hitting a record 13,497 in July. That’s a 22 percent increase over the same time last year.

State Department of Economic Security director Clarence Carter pledged to turn around CPS, but
State officials concede that the report lays out troubling trends:

“There’s no way to argue the numbers,” Stacy Reinstein, deputy child-welfare program administrator, told The Republic. “The work that’s coming in is increasing.”

While Arizona has attempted to mitigate the rising number of kids in foster care by hiring more workers, those efforts have been stymied by a high turnover rate:

CPS hired 215 new caseworkers through June, but 167 left during that same period. There are additional caseworkers in training who are not yet qualified to handle cases. An additional 27 positions are vacant.

That leaves Arizona more than 200 short of its 970 budgeted positions and 468 caseworkers short of what it would take to meet caseload standards, according to CPS data.

CPS has never met its own goals for worker caseloads, which are patterned after nationally accepted standards. Now some experts are concerned that this ongoing problem will only continue to worsen:

“It’s kind of like a snowball effect,” [Director of the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute Nancy Dickinson] said. “Once turnover rates start increasing, workers don’t stay around because their caseloads go up.”

Workers have been unable to investigate all abuse and neglect reports or make monthly visits to foster children as mandated by law. When there aren’t enough workers to cover all of the cases in a competent manner, past studies have shown it’s children and families who ultimately suffer:

A California study showed that high turnover rates, considered 30 percent and above, led to higher rates of families coming back into the child-welfare system with new reports, as well as lengthier stays in foster care for children.