Two years ago, following the murders of two kids who’d been “on the radar” of local police and Child Protective Services, Gov. Jan Brewer ordered the establishment of the Arizona Child Safety Task Force to examine the state’s current policies and practices when it comes to protecting children.
Kids who have been seen by CPS workers and police after reports of abuse and neglect and who are then further abused or even murdered has been an all too common occurrence in Arizona.
Now, following last month’s disclosure that CPS didn’t look into over 6,000 calls reporting abuse, Brewer ordered the establishment of the “independent” Child Advocate Response Examination (CARE) Team to look into CPS’s latest colossal series of failures. The team is headed by Juvenile Department of Corrections Director Charles Flanagan and composed of a genuine expert panel. On top of this inquiry, CPS is doing its own internal review and the Arizona Department of Public Safety is investigating CPS on Brewer’s orders.
Hopefully Brewer’s “independent” team gives us the cold hard facts of life on how and why CPS keeps bungling things and not some fluffy-puffy report like we got during the first purported “independent” Arizona investigation into the deaths of 19 firefighters in Yarnell.
We got two very different reports into the tragedy. The first report white washed the failures that led to the deaths while the second investigation by the Arizona Industrial Commission named names, assessed blame and levied heavy penalties.
The 19 firefighters were killed due to government failures. My guess is the number of kids killed because of CPS’s failures far exceeds 19.
With three official investigations into CPS you’d hope at least one them gives us just the facts with no spin and bureaucratic butt covering.
While the CARE Team is examining CPS’s response to child crimes I hope they also look at law enforcement’s mixed response to child crimes reported to them.
One veteran CPS worker told me police are too quick to pass a case off to them rather than investigate themselves like what happened in the Glendale murder case of 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley. Child abuse is a felony and CPS workers shouldn’t be expected to perform the statutory duties of a police agency.
Officials from multiple agencies involved in the issue have told me of situations where there aren’t enough CPS workers to work in partnership with law enforcement and other supporting agencies. CPS workers have told me of law enforcement officials being unable to respond to calls involving neglect and abuse and not being able to accompany workers on cases where a crime may have been committed against a child. It’s always best when police and CPS work together as equal members of a team.
Another huge weak link in the statewide child protection system is the state Legislature and its longstanding misguided focus on politically popular law enforcement efforts instead of worrying about and protecting abused kids.
Millions and millions of tax dollars have been misspent by the Legislature on the pet projects of key legislators and a couple of publicity grabbing sheriffs all while neglecting child abuse as a serious crime that needs their attention.
CPS has been continually underfunded, understaffed and even had its mission micromanaged courtesy of the state Legislature.
Some have suggested CPS be taken out of the Department of Economic Security and become a standalone agency. Others have mentioned the Department of Public Safety needs to become involved in child crimes investigation due to its statewide presence and having officers available to respond around the state 24/7. Both are good ideas and a long overdue.
In the end we all know one thing for sure, it won’t take an investigation to tell us what we already know and have known for far too long. Crimes against children are only going to get worse if serious changes aren’t made in how Arizona carries out child protection.
•Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.