Gov. Jan Brewer had it exactly right when she turned to the smoldering, shameful crisis confronting Child Protective Services.
She said: “Our child welfare system is broken. It breaks my heart and makes me angry.
“Enough with uninvestigated reports of abuse and neglect.
“Enough with the lack of transparency.
“And enough with the excuses.”
She then proposed taking CPS out of the Department of Economic Security and creating a new, separate agency under the charge of Director of Juvenile Corrections Charles Flanagan.
That’s great, so far as it goes. But just shuffling the deck chairs on this Titanic of an underfunded agency won’t fix the problem.
So far, we haven’t seen Gov. Brewer’s budget — so we don’t know if she means what she says: Enough with the uninvestigated reports. Enough with the excuses.
We’d feel more confident if both the Governor and the Legislature hadn’t ignored all the flashing red lights — starting with years of CPS reports that quietly, but clearly listed all of the reports of child abuse and neglect the agency lacked the resources to investigate.
No surprise there. CPS caseworkers have caseloads 77 percent greater than the national standard. Caseworkers suffer a nearly 40 percent annual turnover rate, thanks to low salaries, backbreaking caseloads and their heartbreaking inability to find either the services failing families need or placements for the children finally removed.
Although CPS has pleaded for caseworkers and documented the inexorable rise in reports of abuse and neglect for years, the Legislature during the downturn reduced the agency’s budget and slashed vital support services to the bleeding bone.
Although legislative leaders have for the most part expressed support for the Governor’s reorganization — neither the Governor nor lawmakers have promised to provide the $65 million the agency needs to hire enough case workers. Some lawmakers — including our own Rep. Brenda Barton — have suggested the state should waste time and lose focus by once again trying to talk the voters into diverting money from early childhood education and family support offered by tobacco-tax-supported First Things First.
That’s a dead end and a deliberate distraction: The state must provide the resources right now to hire enough caseworkers and investigators to handle every single legitimate report of abuse and neglect. We must also provide the resources to either keep families from disintegrating — or find a safe place for every child whose family cannot keep them safe.
No politics. No delays. No flinching.