Child Welfare Investigations

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Arizona’s Department of Economic Services is opening an Office of Child Welfare Investigations at the end of the year. The new unit will coordinate with statewide local law enforcement and CPS case managers on cases of severe child abuse and/or neglect from which criminal allegations or charges may arise. Learn more about it from DES Director Clarence Carter and veteran Phoenix Police Detective Gregory McKay, who was selected to lead the new investigative unit.

Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The new office of child welfare investigations is set to begin operations on January 1st. The unit was created by Governor Jan Brewer's child safety task force, Phoenix police detective, Gregory Mckay, will lead and head the investigative unit and a partnership between Phoenix PD and the department of economic security. Here to talk about the office of child welfare investigations is Phoenix police detective Gregory Mckay and Clarence Carter, the director of the department of economic security which oversees the unit. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us. Let's get some definitions here. What exactly are the duties of this particular program? This office? This unit, if you will.
Gregory McKay: The legislation that's been created for this office says that this office will respond and investigate all criminal conduct allegations of child abuse or child maltreatment in the state of Arizona. So that's what we're beginning now, and that's supposed to go into effect January 1st of 2013.
Ted Simons: And how does that change the way things have been handled?
Clarence Carter: Ted, principally the way it changes is it brings a law enforcement eye, it brings it side by side with the child welfare eye. The whole notion is that in order to protect Arizona's children, both lenses, a law enforcement lens and a social work lens, is desperately necessary. So this brings that law enforcement experience into our child welfare system so we've got that dual lens on protecting Arizona's children.
Ted Simons: From your experience in law enforcement, what have you seen that suggests this is necessary? That this is something that will change, that will head off problems before they happen?
Gregory McKay: Well, from the start of an investigation, whether it's a call in to the child abuse hotline or a call in to law enforcement, law enforcement typically has the criminally investigative approach to that. Investigate any crimes that took place, with an emphasis on holding offenders accountable, prosecutions, CPS on the other hand of that, is interested and tasked with the long-term safety plan of the child. And what I have seen is a need to really cultivate that relationship between law enforcement and child protective services, so each role is fulfilled to the best of its ability, and that comes through knowledge and understanding of what each side needs to be successful.
Ted Simons: Indeed. That also comes through some very unfortunate high-profile cases. How much did those cases impact the task force and what has resulted from the task force?
Clarence Carter: Well, Ted, as you know, there were a series of high-profile child tragedies that had Governor Brewer convene the task force, and the creation of this office of child welfare investigations was the principle recommendation that came out of that task force. So it was a very high-profile child tragedies. What we have seen in Arizona over the years, is there's an ebb and flow, that every so often there seems to be a number of these kinds of cases that create intense public scrutiny on our child welfare system, and it was Governor Brewer decided we were not going to keep having that, that we would fix this system.
Ted Simons: Why do you think there has been that cyclical nature of these things?
Clarence Carter: I believe there's been a cyclical nature because there has not been systemic reform. Bad things happen and there's a human cry, and it quickly passes. And so we'll throw a little bit of money at something, and then move away from it. But here what the governor asked us to do was to, if you would, rip up the floorboards of this system and completely reinvent it. And so that takes time, and so we believe this time we're going to be able to solve the problem.
Ted Simons: Are you ripping up some floorboards right now?
Gregory McKay: We're just starting to rip up the floorboards, yes.
Ted Simons: What are you looking for? What kind of training are you looking for as far as the people involved with the unit, the things you're looking to redirect and change? Again, some of these cases are high profile. We know more than we ever cared to know about these kind of investigations and these kinds of cases.
Gregory McKay: Sure. You know, first off, uniformity is hugely important for these investigations. What you'll find is that different agencies, different people with varying backgrounds and experience levels go about these investigations in different ways. So what I would really hope to bring is consistency and kind of a hybrid model. What I really hope to get out of this is to create kind of a curriculum of training and bring the people in who have a background in law enforcement background in criminal investigation and violent crimes with a specialty in crimes against children, and combine that with CPS workers and kind of dual train everybody to understand what their role is.
Clarence Carter: Ted, if I could, this legislation was of course approved with the session last June, but what we have done is we went through a diligent search to find the exact right person to build this. And so that search led us to Greg McKay, an individual that has an amazing understanding of the intersection of law enforcement and social work in child well-being. He has an unparalleled history in this work, and we believe if his leadership is going to help us craft the way to protect Arizona's children.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, give us an example how that intersection would come into effect starting the first of the year. Give us an example of a case that might have fallen through the cracks before but will get a second look or perhaps even a preemptory look here.
Gregory McKay: Well, first off, having that dined of investigator's eye I think is important in these things. You know, some of our CPS folks, they come out with very good backgrounds in educations and the delivery of social services and after-care and building up families, but they haven't had that experience in the streets, so to speak, to be able to really recognize, you know, some of the warning signs of abuse, some of the things that aren't overtly right there on it's face.
Ted Simons: Example of that, things people say, the activities of the children? What do you look for that maybe someone wouldn't necessarily see?
Gregory McKay: Well, first of all, diligence is the key. And we have to be able to know how far we can go in good faith to continue to pursue an investigation. We can't be directed away from a child that is in harm's way, basically. So a lot of it has to do with knowing the laws, knowing how far that you can continue into an investigation before feeling like its run its course and you have to turn and go away from it. So more interviews, recorded interviews, photographic evidence, right from the beginning. So there's no delay in preserving the evidence or preserving that injury took place is one of the things that would help.
Ted Simons: Are we going to start hearing from critics saying, too invasive, CPS is now, it's too much?
Clarence Carter: Ted, that's always a possibility. There is such a pendulum in the proper calibration of a child welfare system. We don't want to be too intrusive, we do not want to be the state's parent but we want to protect children. The first job of the child welfare system is to protect children. And we have to keep the very delegate balance of protecting children first, but preserving families in the context.
Ted Simons: I want to ask you, apparently some budget requests have been reported, $49.5 million for 200 more workers, paying more for families to take on foster kids, and doing better to house kids in homes. On this program a year ago August I asked, can the department handle what it's got with the way it's got and you said the headline answer was yes. What's changed?
Clarence Carter: Ted, what has changed is that as we have begun this process of ripping up the floorboards, and I've been pretty consistent about this beginning, is that we have learned and we've also -- we've learned some things and we've also seen about a 17% increase in calls to our abuse and neglect hotline. And so that I know increase, increased volume has increased children being removed from the home. So we've had an increased volume, we've also done some of our remaking efforts. So we want it to be in a position where we could make an evidence-based ask, and that's what we've always said. And this is the beginning of our evidence-based ask to repair and rebuild the Arizona's child welfare system.
Ted Simons: I hear the word increase and worry a brand-new unit that starts January 1st may hit the ground walking instead of running because the resources and all of a sudden you're being inundated with cases. Is that a concern for you?
Gregory McKay: Yes, that's a concern. But you know, what we're trying to do -- obviously the goal is to protect children. To keep them safe. We need more than just CPS or law enforcement to do that. Obviously cultivating that relationship between them would be successful, but we need the community to join in with us and identify these things and help us to do our jobs better. And then that will bring about confidence. And if we can do it, an investigation to help law enforcement with the prosecution, we can help CPS with an ongoing safety plan for a family, whether it is to separate a child from a family or keep them together. We do that through an educated investigation, that we hope to bring to this. And yeah, it's a concern, but it's going to grow as we identify the need and the solution, it will grow with it.
Ted Simons: You're all set January 1st.
Clarence Carter: We're all set to go January 1st.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Gentlemen, thank you so much. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks so much. Good to be with you.

Clarence Carter:Director, Department of Economic Services; Gregory McKay:Veteran Phoenix Police Detective;

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