Gov. Jan Brewer has declined calls for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the crisis triggered by the revelation that Child Protective Services classified as “not investigated” more than 6,400 reports of child abuse and neglect.
Recent reports indicated that for years CPS routinely reported to the governor and Legislature the number of uninvestigated cases, despite expressions of shock and surprise once the issue broke into the headlines.
The Payson Roundup has filed a freedom of information request to determine whether the ignored cases included Calandra Balas, a Payson 7-year-old who died in a car crash as her father fled from police with the girl in the back seat.
Her father had been arrested for domestic violence a year prior to the accident that killed Calandra. She had been removed from his custody on at least two previous occasions, according to family members.
Payson police in 2011 arrested her father, Gasoa “Josh” Balas, after neighbors called to report screaming and sounds of a fight. Officers found his girlfriend bloodied and cut with scissors. She said they had been fighting when Balas held her down, sat on her chest, cut her hair off and stuffed the hair into her mouth as Calandra watched. The argument reportedly started with a disagreement about his discipline of his daughter.
Calandra was apparently not removed from her father’s custody after that incident. The Roundup has requested records of Calandra’s contacts with Child Protective Services. Those records normally remain confidential, except in the case of a child’s death.
Gov. Brewer and legislative Republicans have ignored demands by legislative Democrats to hold a special session on the problems facing CPS in the wake of revelations that CPS has for some years simply classed as “not investigated (NI)” thousands of cases each year.
In addition, the agency has about 10,000 backlogged cases because it lacks the investigators to respond within the two-month time limit set by law.
Several CPS auditors triggered the crisis when they highlighted the roughly 6,554 uninvestigated reports. At the time, both CPS Director Clarence Carter and Gov. Brewer said they were shocked by the revelations and had no idea the agency wasn’t investigating all the reports of abuse and neglect, as required by law.
Arizona CPS workers generally have caseloads at least 77 percent above the national standard, a figure routinely reported in budget discussions for the past four years. Although Gov. Brewer has requested a modest number of additional CPS caseworkers in the past two budgets, the agency staffing fell far behind the rise in reports during the recession and the state budget crisis it triggered.
More than a year ago, a CPS tracking report revealed that the number of abused and neglected children in foster care had hit a record 13,487, up 22 percent from the previous year. In that period, CPS hiring barely kept up with the roughly 31 percent annual turnover among investigators and caseworkers. At that point, the agency remained 200 workers short of its 970 budgeted positions and 468 workers short of the number it would need to meet national standards, according to a story in The Arizona Republic published in 2012.
Recent reports have confirmed that CPS regularly documented the rising number of uninvestigated cases in reports filed annually with both the governor and legislative committees.
The language in the annual reports includes “not responded to” and “not assigned” and “in-depth alternative assessment” to identify the uninvestigated cases.
For instance, Oct. 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013 included 1,603 “not responded to” cases, the highest for any six-month period to that point.
The most recent reporting period includes 4,457 cases not responded to.
Gov. Brewer has established a Child Advocate Response Examination (CARE) team, to look into all of the uninvestigated cases. The CARE team has reportedly assigned for review 1,440 reports. Of those, so far 451 children have been seen.
The scandal gives weight to what people dealing with the system have long reported, including Donna Ferguson, Calandra’s grandmother.
She said that she talked to Balas’ girlfriend after his assault on her, but couldn’t determine whether CPS had taken custody of Calandra. “I supposed that with the police involved, CPS would be involved.
“But they never called us. I just don’t understand that. From the very beginning, I don’t know why they gave her to him. That’s the question that keeps on my mind. It’s just so hard to comprehend. If they hadn’t, she’d be alive today. I really believe that.”