Child Protective Services

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Director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security Clarence Carter discusses his department’s division of Child Protective Services.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: The recent death of a 6-year-old boy who had been under the supervision of child protective services is again raising questions about CPS. Yesterday, we heard from "Arizona Republic" columnist Laurie Roberts and her criticisms of CPS. Tonight, we hear from Clarence Carter, the director of the Arizona department of economic security, which oversees CPS. It's good to have you here again. Thanks for joining us.

Clarence Carter: Ted, it's my pleasure. Good to be here with you.

Ted Simons: Basic question. I'm not going through the litany of cases here. We're familiar with them. Can CPS handle the case loads of 11,000 kids as this department is now run?

Clarence Carter: Ted, the headline to that answer is "yes." The story is how we do that is a constantly evolving process, we must always tweak or practice and preparation of the labor force to do that, but absolutely, we can do this job.

Ted Simons: Critics, CPS has to deal with more case and fewer resources. The cuts, $260 million some old mill I didn't know. You got more workloads and pay that's been frozen and fewer services out there. Is that acceptable to you?

Clarence Carter: I would be disingenuous if I didn't say there are not issues of resource and resource altercation, but that's not all of what is at play here. There are many issues of design, of our system, of preparation of our labor force, yes, the resource and resource allocation and we have to factor all of those in to the way we make the strongest child protective system.

Ted Simons: And we had Laurie Roberts on, "The Arizona Republic" columnist, a bulldog. Some of the stories she was doing years ago are still happening. Asked her last night regarding the impact of cuts and need for change, and here's what Laurie Roberts of "The Arizona Republic" had to say last night.

VO/Laurie Roberts: Certainly, there's budget issues and shame on the legislature for not giving them what they need. This particular director has an opportunity, I think, should he have the guts to speak truth to power above and try to get the people below him to change the culture and really make some real changes in that place.

Ted Simons: You got the guts to do that?

Clarence Carter: We definitely have the guts to do that. And we were working on the plans to do so. I consider -- I consider Laurie Roberts to be an ally in an overarching attempt to help us have the strongest child protection system that is possible. But, yes, we have absolutely the guts to do what we need do and the vision. And quite frankly, we have the competent labor force to do so.

Ted Simons: You've met with the governor on this. Have you told the governor that these kind of changes are necessary? What have you told the governor, again, resource, the folks involved, the whole nine yard? What are you telling her and what are you hearing back?
Clarence Carter: The conversation that we had with the governor, first began with her reaffirmation of her charge to us to have the strongest most effective, most transparent child welfare system. And once she was clear on that, she then wanted to hear from me and the agency how we are tracking toward that and so we had many discussions about specific challenges of the day, baked-in challenges and our plans for how we are remediating and what she directed me to do is to bring her office intimately into the plans for addressing these issues and the design, because she wants to know where it is she needs to exercise her executive authority to support those plans.

Ted Simons: Many people would say what she could do is become a champion for the cause and do something regarding budget cuts in this area, is that something you talked to her about?

Clarence Carter: I think it's disingenuous to suggest she's not been a champion. In the midst of tremendous -- a need for tremendous budget reduction, this governor stood very strong in putting on the brakes for some of those reductions in the child welfare system and the department of economic security. So to suggest she's not been a champion is just wrong. Ok? What she wanted to understand yesterday, are there other things that I can do to support your work in making things effective and what I promised her is to bring her office intimately involved so we can put those things before her. As far as putting those things before the public, what kind of changes are you looking at? The public right now has no confidence in CPS. You can tell. We're exhausted by this.

Ted Simons: Right.

Ted Simons: What do you do or say to let the public know something is being done and something concrete, tangible?

Clarence Carter: Ted, ok, one of the tangible things I can share is that we have tasked our system to do a specific review of every case in which there has been three or more engagements with the child welfare system and to monitor those on an ongoing basis. So that we know that at any given moment, that which needs to happen to ensure children are safe in those homes is happening. And -- and so the objective there is when we understand that there has been trouble in a particular family, then we should be Johnny on the spot to remediate.

Ted Simons: Last question. Many are suggesting this particular department needs an audit, at the very least to find out what's being spent and how and especially in the face of limited budget. Audit make sense to you?

Clarence Carter: An audit is a part of overall continuing business process improvement. So it's not simply a funding audit. DES and CPS has to, on an ongoing basis, audit its overall operation, to monitor and evaluate its effectiveness and we've created an office of accountability to do just that function.

Ted Simons: Ok. So the last question would be what are we going to see in terms of changes? And what are we going to see in terms of transparency from the office? Again, "The Arizona Republic" is trying to get records out of CPS and you hear all sort of arguments you can't do this, there's confidentiality. How do we know what's going on and we're not getting the information?

Clarence Carter: Ted, please understand that we are very cognizant because we share this, when a child dies, there is such a hew and cry for that to not happen. And everybody wants the doors wide open and figure out what went wrong. The law specifically proscribes what it is that the department of economic security can make public at what time and we adhere to that, not more and not less. And we understand that in the grind of bureaucracy, that all seems like just noise sometimes. But we have to abide by the -- by the rules in order to make the system function well. So what I will drive for, and this was the governor's charge, for the agency to be as transparent as law and regulation and policy allows. But even that transparency doesn't afford a 100% open view into everything that happens. There are issues of protecting those that we serve that the law very carefully protects.

Ted Simons: All right. Thank you so much for joining us tonight and we're looking forward to seeing some of these changes come into effect with CPS.

Clarence Carter: It's my pleasure being here with you.

Ted Simons: Thanks.

Clarence Carter: Thanks.

Clarence Carter:Director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security

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