“We Know That Some Kids are in Danger,” Says Arizona Child Advocate of Data That Shows Troubled System

07 AUG 2012 / POSTED BY CR

Arizona’s Child Protective Services (CPS) continues to struggle despite policy changes, new staff and nearly $1 million spent on consultants, according to new data on the agency’s performance. This has raised concern among child advocates, while state officials hope upcoming changes will reverse this negative trend. The Arizona Republicreports:

New data released Thursday show growth in all the wrong areas — hotline reports, backlogs of unfinished cases, the number of children in foster care and the length of time babies and toddlers spend in shelters.

During the six-month period ending March 31, state figures also show continuation of a troubling two-year trend, with foster parents closing their doors faster than new homes are opening.

Local child advocates believe this data shows that children in the system are in danger of being left in abusive and neglectful homes:

“The trends and the backlogs remain very distressing,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, a non-profit advocacy group. “The department is working on a range of initiatives, but at this point, the backlogs are so high that we know that some kids are in danger.”

The number of inactive and abandoned cases stands at nearly 10,000 and continues to grow due in part to worker caseloads that sometimes exceed 100 cases. Despite a mandate to investigate 100 percent of all abuse and neglect reports, the data shows caseworkers failed to respond to almost 1,000 of them over the six-month period.

Meanwhile, the number of children entering this already-beleaguered system continues to grow:

Nearly 5,000 children were removed from their homes and placed in foster care — a new six-month record, according to the latest biannual report on state Child Protective Services — and a total of 12,453 children were in the state’s custody as of March 31, a 15 percent increase over March 2011.

The department has begun implementing a streamlined investigation process to improve the backlog and hiring is underway to shore up the agency in key areas. However, Dr. Kathryn Coffman, division chief of the child protection team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, says she’s still seeing an increase in cases of severe child abuse and neglect:

“So many children who end up in the ICU or the morgue have been injured before, and somebody saw them and missed it,” Coffman said. “That probably means more kids in foster care, but it’s better than the graveyard.”

“Most people don’t have babies intending to abuse them. What a lot of these young, inexperienced parents need is support,” Coffman said. “There is absolutely no question that front-end prevention is the way to go.”