Child Protective Services

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Arizona Republic Columnist Laurie Roberts comments on the Arizona Child Safety Task Force that’s looking into ways to reform Child Protective Services.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The case of a missing 5-year-old Glendale girl, Jahessye Shockley, is again raising questions about the state's ability to protect its children. "Arizona republic" columnist Laurie Roberts joins us to talk about ideas to reform the state's child protection services. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. Before we get to the taskforce and the ideas for reform. A little girl -- I mean, how does a mother who spent prison time for child abuse wind up with kids?

Laurie Roberts: Well, it seems like a horror story, doesn't it, on the night before Thanksgiving, that children in our community are living in situations like this. It's the biggest comedy of errors and I would laugh if I didn't have to cry over a case like this. You have a situation in California where they released this woman on parole with no restrictions. Allowed to have the children. Her mother decides I'll give the children back because mommy has had parenting lessons and will not beat the children with electrical cords and you have a situation with family members concerned, called California CPS, Arizona CPS, called the police and called and called and it made no difference.

Ted Simons: Ok. And it -- so now we get on to CPS and this taskforce, now, charged with looking at the CPS and recommending changes, what -- changes, what are you seeing so far?

Laurie Roberts: We've been around this merry-go-round. This is my third time around. 2003, there was an effort to reform. And 2008, an effort because of the deaths of children in Tucson. And here we go again, but for the first time, I feel like maybe the right players are in place to make the -- right players are in place. In the past, it's been tinkering, layering new things on to old things and trying to plug holes and fix things and now you have a guy in Bill Montgomery who has ideas in fundamental reforms by changing the way we look at if it from the outset.

Ted Simons: One of those ideas, maybe there's too much of an emphasis on reunifying families.

Laurie Roberts: Then ripping kids out of the homes and away from mommy and daddy. Yeah. It's a tough balancing act. What we need to get to, how do we early on decide those children that can't live in that hope, let's get them out of there, get them severed and let the children have a childhood -- childhood is a fleeting thing and for those kids who the issue is not criminal abuse but maybe abuse as a result of poverty, not being able to have your children properly supervised because you have to work. And there's no daycare money around. And we know what it costs. So bring services so those kids can stay in. I think his idea might mean that fewer kids have to be taken out of homes. Caseworkers tell me that they take kids out of the home defensively because they're afraid they might make a mistake and wind up in a headline and the child will die. Maybe they don't need to be taken, but as a defensive posture. If they don't have to deal with the criminal cases and instead, the law enforcement community is, perhaps they don't have to worry about ripping kids out and instead, have the time to bring in what's needed.

Ted Simons: That's the other idea. The idea, instead of CPS, social workers dealing with what looks to be a criminal situation. Though they're supposed to have police involved.

Laurie Roberts: They were involved from a paperwork perspective.

Ted Simons: But still, there was that connection and it didn't connect. Montgomery says get people that are trained, skilled in law enforcement, but also have social work and CPS capabilities as well. Make sense?

Laurie Roberts: An enormous amount of sense. We need those first responders in these cases to be child abuse, child sexual abuse, child neglect and abandonment experts. What we found in Jhessye Shockley, is that children lie. No surprise. Mommy says you better not tell anyone what I did, and so the police show up, no, everything is great. Mommy is great. We need people trained in forensic tactics who can delve and figure out if it's a crime or nothing to see here.

Ted Simons: Critics will say it takes money to train and find these people and critics of the whole system are saying that a lack of funding and lack of resources is a major factor here. We had bill Montgomery and Clarence Carter on last night to talk about this. Chairman and Vice-chairman of the taskforce and I asked Clarence Carter who oversees CPS -- he's the agency head at economic security, asking him is there an emphasis on -- emphasis on efficiency as opposed to resources.

Clarence Carter: 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. So we're in the process of ensuring that the practice and the policy is effective and then where we understand the resource, we'll make a appropriate and diligent --

Ted Simons: When you have the time.

Clarence Carter: We do have the time for that.

Ted Simons: Do we have the time for that?

Bill Montgomery: Yes. I think what director Carter is pointing out, probably the most responsible from a public policy standpoint and the most logical from an organizational development standpoint how to address an agency like CPS with such a critical mission and employees dedicated to the task they have at hand.

Ted Simons: Do we have time for that? Do we have time for that kind of analysis, that kind of strategy?

Laurie Roberts: Well, you're going to have to make time, because I think realistically, not going to get the legislature to throw good money after bad. I like the idea of streamlining the system, the paperwork and the insane things these caseworkers have to comply with are crazy. But clearly, they're dodging the bigger question, which is when you fix this thing and have the new framework, chances are it's going to cost more money and maybe it should cost more money, especially if we're going to equally on the criminal side deal with -- along with that, deal with the other side, the social worker side. It's ridiculous we have 11,000 children in foster care. Ridiculous and expensive. We need to turn it around and get more services to them so we can get them back into the homes and maybe it will cost us less and yeah, we'll we're going to have to make a commitment. We're weeping over Jhessye Shockley as we did with so many other children this year. Are we going to put our money where our tears are?

Ted Simons: All right. We'll stop it there. Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Laurie Roberts :Columnist, Arizona Republic;

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