Arizona Child Safety Task Force

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Task force chairman Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and vice chairman DES Director Clarence Carter, outline the issues the Task Force is dealing with.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Governor Jan Brewer created the Arizona child safety task force to look into the state's child welfare system and recommend ways to better protect Arizona's children. Joining me to talk about the work the group is doing is its chairman, Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery and vice-chairman Clarence Carter, including child protective services. Bill, starting with you, what is the task force designed to do?

Bill Montgomery: Ultimately we're looking to make specific recommendations to the governor involving statutory, organizational management or protocol reforms to enhance the safety and security of children either under the state's protection or in the state's custody. Looking at CPS investigations, law enforcement investigations, CPS management, foster care, crisis and shelters for kids; really that whole area involving child protection.

Ted Simons: That's a lot of things to look at there. Task force up to this? Do you have enough time and resources?

Clarence Carter: The task force is absolutely up to it. While there are a broad number of issues that we're going tackle, it's not going to be exhaustive. This is as much -- will be some specific recommendations as really creating a broad framework for how the state moves forward on the issue of child protection.

Ted Simons: Bill, I know you were saying something initially along the lines of their being too much emphasis on reunifying families. The issue seems to go back and forth, one way or the other. Explain your position on that.

Bill Montgomery: There has been a philosophy, a generalized philosophy within child protection systems across the United States with an emphasis on family unification. What I've been saying is that an overemphasis on family unification or child removal is not always in the best interests of a child or conducive to protecting a child. What we really need to do is focus on child protection first. Then with that as the concrete goal, if the family reunification, providing social services to families in need is the proper approach to being able to protect that child, that's what we should do. But if the environment the child is in is no longer a home but really an ongoing crime scene, the proper response for child protection is to deal with that within the criminal justice system and prosecute the parents, who really are just criminals. We have to take into account the fact that that child is a victim of a crime.

Ted Simons: We're seeing the issue play out in heartbreaking details with this Jesse Shockley case. Obviously these are just allegations right now, and will move forward with that investigation. But the idea of reunifying families, do you think that has received too much emphasis of late?

Clarence Carter: The issue of the protection of children with preserving families is the most delicate endeavor of public policy. There is an absolute necessity to protect the child. But at the same time, we do want to be able to preserve families. Sometimes that pendulum swings a little bit too far in one direction. We have to make sure the safety of the child is issue number one.

Ted Simons: Can the task force find a way to work that pendulum and find the balance?

Clarence Carter: It certainly can. I believe this is an aggregation of very skilled, very experienced very dedicated Arizonans who will help us to calibrate this issue appropriately.

Ted Simons: Do you see that, as well? Can there be something coming out of this task force with this particular issue?

Bill Montgomery: Oh, it can be done. That's the unofficial motto of this task force. And the way we do that is by looking at how CPS is organized, the mission of DES, and having the involvement of the DES director Mr. Carter as the vice-chairman is exhibit A. We are going to be able to find a way to do this. Wanting to give CPS caseworkers the opportunity to do a job they are good at, to be able to focus on the importance of that initial crisis intervention and safety assessment, and ensuring our joint investigative protocol between CPS, law enforcement, prosecutors and medical personnel is followed as thoroughly as it can be.

Ted Simons: I want to get to that protocol in a second here. There is a line of reasoning that says instead of an emphasis or accent on removing children from families, find ways, resources to improve the family's condition. To treat the family. That is at play here, as well?

Clarence Carter: As I said, it's a delicate balance between protecting children and preserving families. We do not want government to be in the position of being the parent for the State. We want to absolutely -- we have an obligation to protect children. But at the same time we do want to preserve to the degree possible families. But I think the chairman makes an appropriate point. When a family is an ongoing criminal enterprise then we need to be able to act in the children's best interests.

Ted Simons: Sometimes you're suggesting that includes law enforcement trained investigators on serious cases. Isn't law enforcement supposed to be notified anyway if there is some sort of -- suspecting criminal activity?

Bill Montgomery: They are. But what we're talking about is trained individuals who are going to be those first responders. Calls come into a CPS hot line identify a priority and who's going respond, that's not always law enforcement initially. It can be CPS employees initially showing up and trying to assess the situation. We don't have to have an either/or approach to this. It shouldn't be either we're helping families or removing children. That's a false choice, I reject that. It should be both/and. The initial call, having someone trained with experience in the social services that can be delivered, as well as experience to know when to invoke the protocol to get law enforcement involved, maybe that is right away. Sometimes we have a child abuse investigator and police officer arriving at the same time. We can do that.

Ted Simons: Does that make sense to you?

Clarence Carter: It makes perfect sense. There are two very different orientations that are necessary here. The world view of a social worker is different than the world view and training of a law enforcement professional, both of those world views need to come into play in important circumstances here.
Ted Simons: We had Representative Katy Hobbs on the show last night and she wanted to be on the panel but she was not appointed. She has a history of social work. She brought up the idea of funding and resources. I want you to hear -- I want you to hear what she had to say and get your comments afterwards. This was Representative Katie Hobbs last night on "Horizon."

Katie Hobbs: 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 is defending that saying it's not a resource issue, it's an efficiency issue. I just really think it is a resource issue. We have workers that are working at 50% to 65% above the recommended case levels for whatever area they are in if they are investigative or in-home or out of home services. They are way above the recommended case levels. And turnover at the agency is 20% to 25%. At any given time there's a huge number of vacancies. I've heard him say we just need to fill 50-some positions. But that doesn't address the fact that, number one, new caseworkers can't take a big caseload. They can only take one or two cases for a certain number of weeks. There needs to be a continuous revolving door out of the agency. That's a huge issue.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that, the idea that you're not necessarily on board with some folks who say they need more money?

Clarence Carter: With all due respect to Representative Hobbs, I didn't say it was not a resource issue. I said we had to be diligent about understanding and designing the most effective practice before we made a resource request. And that's what it is. I did not say it is not an issue of resources. We have looked at a portion of our practice where we had -- we were able to take 200,000 hours out of a poorly designed practice. I could not ask for a resource for a poorly designed practice. We are in the process of ensuring that the practice and the policy is effective, and then when we understand the resource we will make an appropriate and diligent resource request.

Ted Simons: Do we have the time for that?

Clarence Carter: We do have the time for that.

Ted Simons: Do we have the time for that?
Bill Montgomery: Yes, yes. I think what Director Carter is pointing is the most responsible and logical from an organizational development standpoint about how to address an agency like CPS with such a critical mission and employees dedicated to the task at hand. We have seen in the past, what has frustrated reform efforts was the clarion call for just more resources. If we do that, we could fix the situation. Representative Hobbs is pointing out one important issue. But that's not the entirety of what it is that we're looking at. Just asking for resources without understanding exactly how the organization is performing and where it needs to perform better is going to leave us with what we've had from before, which is the false assertion of reform and improvement.

Ted Simons: Can we have reform with added resources? That obviously can be on the table, can't it?

Clarence Carter: Absolutely, absolutely. Governor Brewer said to both of us, what can I do to exercise my executive authority to help in this issue? So part of what the task force is looking at, recommendations to put in front of her to be able to move forward. Everything's on the table.

Ted Simons: What makes this attempt to overhaul CPS different? I know it's probably unfair to ask you because you haven't been in Arizona all that long. But you know, you've been around long enough now to know the history here. What separates this effort from previous efforts that have led us to this effort?

Clarence Carter: What I feel like is in play here is a dynamic of cooperation and collaboration that, for me, signals the ability to succeed. I can't comment on what happened before I was here. But what I know is that these are discussions that the chairman and I have had ongoing, that they are members on this task force. That official task force meaning it was an open and willing environment about how do we make this better. I believe there's a collaborative spirit here that will allow us to succeed.

Ted Simons: And last question for you: How does this differ? We are in the midst of this horrendous case. How a woman who spent time in prison for child abuse winds up with her children under the same roof. How does that happen?

Bill Montgomery: Sometimes in circumstances like that you're never going to get satisfactory answers because the circumstances just defy general understanding from people who otherwise understand what it is to care for a child in your care. I'm speaking generally, not necessarily with the Shockley case here. I think that's part of what's going on. To underscore some of what Director Carter was saying to your question about why is this effort different. This time around we have a chief executive who is committed to seeing through what it is we're able to recommend. She's put on the task force with responsibility for seeing it through. She went ahead and deliberately or otherwise, made the chairman someone who's a former tank platoon leader. When I hit an obstacle, I go over, through or around. Director Carter and I working together on this, and the composition and the task force, it's bipartisan, multidisciplinary. Everybody is there to improve the system. And we're not just going ask for more resources.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it right there. Gentlemen, great conversation. Good to have you.

Clarence Carter: Good to be with you, Ted.

Bill Montgomery:Chairman, Maricopa County Attorney; Clarence Carter:Vice Chairman, DES Director;

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