‘That’s a Big, Big Problem,’ Computer Glitch in Arizona CPS Keeps Public Records Hidden For 15 Years From Lawyers and Families

Arizona’s Child Protective Services (CPS) is yet again embroiled in controversy, this time over the revelation that a computer glitch kept public records hidden for more than 15 years. The error could have an enormous impact on the system as well as the families and lawyers involved with it, according to experts. The Arizona Republic has more on this developing story:

[The malfunction] could have led to children being wrongly removed and prevented caregivers from supporting civil claims against the state.

The computer error affected thousands of families, and attorneys say it could prompt efforts to reopen civil and child-dependency cases.

Officials overseeing CPS have announced that they will be sending notices to more than 30,000 people who received incomplete records over the past two years alone:

The state said it is unable to track or notify those who requested and received incomplete records before 2010.

Those receiving notices include parents involved in the nearly 8,600 open dependency cases, about 1,500 parents who have requested records on their CPS cases, nearly 1,200 judicial or law-enforcement requests, 55 members of the media, and more than 21,000 attorneys.

The latest blow to the state’s struggling system comes on the heels of news that there is a record number of children in Arizona foster care and not enough staff to handle all of the cases. Lawyers who represent families in the state have expressed their belief that the shockwave from the computer glitch could be far-ranging:

“If a case got to the wrong result because information wasn’t disclosed, that’s a big, big problem,” said Mark Kennedy, who has represented about 400 parents over the past three years. “To me, it’s pretty significant when CPS says we’re going to contact 21,000 lawyers. That’s like saying, ‘Start searching your case files because there may be some problems out there.’ “

While it remains unclear exactly what information was hidden in which cases, any undisclosed information could have altered some cases and led to the wrong outcome for children and families. Examples of the crucial records that may have been unavailable include:

Details of Child Abuse Hotline reports. Services provided to the family.
Case notes and documentation from CPS workers and supervisors.
Assessments of children who participated in services.
Appeals of previous child-maltreatment findings.

Spokeswoman Dasya Peterson said that people requesting public records “were given the majority of the information.” However, local attorneys say that until they have more information on what exactly was missing, there is no way of knowing just how deep this problem goes:

Attorney Joseph Ramiro-Shanahan, who also represents parents and children in dependency court, said that’s not much consolation. “That’s convenient for them to say, but who knows?” he said. “I don’t even know what I’m missing.”