State Representative Katie Hobbs, a social worker who was hoping to have a seat on the Governor’s Child Safety Task Force, discusses her ideas for reforming Child Protective Services.
Ted Simons: The Arizona Child Safety Task Force is considering recommendations to the state's child welfare system. Democrats wanted Representative Katie Hobbs on the task force because of her extensive experience in social work, but she was not appointed to the panel. Joining us to talk about her ideas for reforming CPS is Representative Katie Hobbs. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Katie Hobbs: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Why did you want to be on the panel?
Katie Hobbs: I've been a social worker for 20 years, and I've never had a job that I didn't interact with Child Protective Services, so I think with my background I would have added value to the task force. Just my experience. And the governor appointed a member of every caucus except for ours, so we did ask her to appoint me after she had made appointments, and she didn't respond to that request.
Ted Simons: Okay, what changes do you want to see at CPS, and why?
Katie Hobbs: Well, I think number one, I don't begin to think I have all the answers. But I'm a little leery of a task force that is meeting for two meetings and is making recommendations in a very short period of time. CPS is a very complex system, and I think the answers to the problems are very complex. And so there's a lot of areas that need to be locked at. I think one of the big ones is a work force issue, and I'm really concerned that director Carter has put in his budget request for DES and hasn't requested any additional funding for Child Protective Services, and he's defending that saying that it's not a resource issue it's an efficiency issue. And I just really think that it is a resource issue. We have workers that are working at 50-65% above their recommended case levels for whatever area they're in, if they're investigative or in home or out of home services. They're way above the recommended case levels. Turnover at the agency is 20-25%. So at any given time there's a huge number of vacancies. And I've heard him say we need to fill this 50-some positions. But that doesn't address the fact that number one, new caseworkers can't take a big case load, they can only take one or two cases for a certain number of weeks, and they need to have this continuous revolving door. That's a huge issue. That's one. There's talk about let's stop the whole idea of reunification. I think there's cases where it's warranted and cases where it's not. You can't take a one size fits all approach. Especially when you look at the huge amounts of cuts that have happened in the last few years to the entire safety net of services prevention services, services that can keep families together and keep kids safe in their homes. We have gutted those. And so you can talk about removing all the kids, but there's also an issue of where do you put all those kids. There's 4,000 kids right now waiting to be adopted, there's not enough foster homes, we've cut resources for foster families, so there's a huge amount of issues.
Ted Simons: And it seems as though this is an issue that swings back and forth. Reunifying families, getting the kids out of the families, is it just going to go on forever here? And is CPS in Arizona a situation, a dissimilar to child protective agencies in other states? Because if someone else is doing something proper and doing something that's getting good results, why aren't we looking over there?
Katie Hobbs: Right. I think we should absolutely be looking at other states that have models that are working. And implement the things that make sense in Arizona. And I think we have these periods of intense public scrutiny when a lot of bad things happen, and we've seen a huge number of child deaths in the last year, and it's good that there's public scrutiny. I think we need to put in place a way to maintain that public scrutiny all the time. Child protective services is an agency that needs to be accountable to the public, and they're not. And so we need to put in systems that makes that accountability favorite -- how they do business every day.
Ted Simons: Director Carter says he wants to see changes but he wants them to be strategic, deliberate, and methodical. Make sense to you?
Katie Hobbs: Absolutely. When you're talking about a system as big as CPS, that is very important. I don't think you can do that in a two-month task force.
Ted Simons: Okay, so what do you want to see out of this task force?
Katie Hobbs: I hope the task force is the beginning. I think the task force members really want to do the right thing. I hope they look at a lot of issues and not just go in thinking, "Okay, we already have the answer this is what we need to do." I really hope they listen to all of the sides of the issue and not just focus on one aspect.
Ted Simons: First of all, your experience as a social worker, talk to us more about that, your background.
Katie Hobbs: My first job out of college was working in a homeless shelter for youth. We had kids that were basically aging out of the foster care system. And then I worked in mental health and I've worked with domestic violence. And in the mental health system we had at the kids who were in the CPS system who needed counseling and services for the trauma that they had experienced, the trauma of believe it or not kids that are taken away from abusive parents experience sometimes more trauma from that than they do from the abuse. And then with domestic violence, there's a 60% correlation between domestic violence and CPS, and so we had a lot of mom who's got to the shelter and got safe, and then were working on getting their kids back. If we could give CPS workers the tools to work on both domestic violence and child abuse, then they would have the tools to help the mom and the kid be safe and kind of skip that step of removing the kids from the home in the meantime.
Ted Simons: With that background and that experience, biggest misconception you think that's out there regarding CPS.
Katie Hobbs: I think that the statement that we've heard over and over again from the task force that we have to stop just focusing on reunification. I don't think that is the main focus. I think that these workers that are not supported and under resourced have a huge balancing act. They make life and death decisions every day. And I think that they're trying to do the best they can with the resources they have. So I think it's not all about reunification, and there are sometimes where it's appropriate to try to preserve the family. If you can provide appropriate services to make sure the kids are safe.
Ted Simons: Last question, you mentioned that the budget needs to change. There needs to be more in the way of resources, more in the way of funding. That seems to be a nonstarter, with the commission and with the legislature. Certainly there are ways to get around, are there not, to get improvements without that increase in funding?
Katie Hobbs: I don't know what type of efficiencies that Director Carter is looking at, and certainly you might be able to do some things there. I think every state agency is probably operating on a very balanced budget because of all the cuts in the last few years. So I don't know. I just think that really resources need to be directed at this issue.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
Katie Hobbs: Thank you.
Katie Hobbs:State Representative;