Report: Arizona child welfare needs full overhaul

PHOENIX (AP) - An independent team named by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to review the state's troubled child welfare agency is calling for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the department to focus it purely on child safety.

The report released Friday outlines steps needed to address years-long problems at Child Protective Services. The most severe issue was revealed in November when more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports were found to have not been investigated.

Brewer abolished CPS earlier this month and created a new child welfare department that reports to her directly.

The Republican governor's CARE team report recommends re-training social workers, working more with outside providers and overhauling the state's child abuse hotline.

The team report also recommends removing civil service protections from child welfare agency workers.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

An independent team named by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to review the state's child welfare agency is set to deliver a report to the governor Friday outlining areas needing improvement in the troubled agency.

The report is expected to outline actions needed to improve the agency after a series of problems that included the discovery of more than 6,500 ignored child abuse and neglect reports. The governor was briefed on its contents Friday morning, spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

Brewer created what she's calling the CARE team in December after it was learned that a group inside the state Child Protective Services agency had been closing reports received by its child abuse hotline without sending them to social workers in the field for investigation. The idea was to cull out reports not meriting action to lower the caseload of overwhelmed field workers, but a review has found that many should have been acted upon, and all by law required a response.

Five senior CPS workers remain on administrative leave as investigations into who authorized the closings continue.

The team has been handling the neglected reports and assigned all but two of 6,554 cases to social workers. Those two are on Indian reservations outside state jurisdiction.

Those workers have removed 82 children from their homes since the neglected reports dating from 2009 were discovered. A review also found that nearly 1,200 of those neglected reports had subsequent reports that led to the removal of at least 316 children from their homes before the closures were discovered.

Brewer named the director of the state's juvenile corrections department to lead the effort and named key lawmakers and others to the team.

Earlier this month, she pulled CPS from its parent agency and created a new cabinet-level department by executive order, saying she has "abolished CPS as we know it."

The Republican governor renamed the agency the Division of Child Safety and Family Services and appointed CARE team leader Charles Flanagan to head the agency. She's asking the Legislature to formally create the new agency.

She also asked the Legislature for money to immediately begin beefing up agency staffing. On Thursday, lawmakers approved a special $6.8 million appropriation that will allow the agency to begin hiring nearly 200 new workers. That action is needed because caseloads have soared in recent years as abuse reports skyrocketed and high worker turnover left workers handling more than twice the recommended caseload.

Brewer also wants nearly $10 million more right away for emergency child placement in group homes and other settings and family support services such as parenting skill training and foster-care recruitment. The Legislature has delayed providing those funds, with Senate President Andy Biggs saying earlier this week that request may wait until the next budget year.

The extra funding is in addition to a $74 million request for the budget year that starts July 1. That request will pay for a plan to the agency, beef up its resources and replace an obsolete computer system.


(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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