CPS Oversight Committee

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A committee that is looking at ways to improve Child Protective Services met for the first time last week, more than a year after it was created. Lawmakers failed to appoint members to the committee in time to send a report to the Governor, but a bill this year resurrected the committee. Committee Co-chair Nancy Barto will discuss the group and talk about its goals.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A committee looking at ways to improve Child Protective Services met for the first time last week, more than a year after the committee was created. Joining us is committee co-chair state Senator Nancy Barto. Good to have you here, thank you so much for joining us. Why did it take so long to get this committee up and in operation?

Nancy Barto: Lots of people have been asking that. We have been anxious to address the issues going on with CPS as well, but the idea was that since the governor's task force on CPS ended last year, most of the reforms that were meant to address the issues weren't even implemented yet. So we felt it was important to wait until some of those things were in place and then have a true oversight committee over the way those things were being implemented and the money spent.

Ted Simons: We have new members, new duties and a new deadline. When is that?

Nancy Barto: The first report isn't due out for more than another year from today. December 2014. So we have time to really dig in. We do have some important new members on the committee that will really help us do, I think, the yeoman's work that needs to be done with this oversight committee charge.

Ted Simons: What is the work that needs to be done?

Nancy Barto: Basically, we are looking at two big issues. Why are so many children being harmed in Arizona, and what is the response to that? What is the state response to that? How are they doing it? How well are they doing it? Or are they making it worse? So the charge of the committee is to evaluate the changes that are being implemented and making sure that all of those issues that have been brought up to legislators that have been advertised in the public, that true accountability is being implemented at the agency so kids are not doubly abused when they are in state care.

Ted Simons: Is there is accountability as it stands now?

Nancy Barto: Well, that's an open question. We -- the first meeting obviously was more like an oversight -- not an oversight, the committee is called an oversight committee, it was more of an overview of how CPS works. There were a lot of unanswered questions in that committee hearing.

Ted Simons: Too many for you?

Nancy Barto: Lots of frustrated committee members. We will need to dig a lot deeper to get the answers that we need in regards to both accountability and how the agency is using both their funding and their processes efficiently.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it there are about 10,000 or so inactive cases backlogged at CPS. First of all, does that number ring true, and secondly, why so many? What are you hearing?

Nancy Barto: Yes. That is true. And you have to ask questions. Is Arizona an outlier? Really it's not a simple answer. One of the facts that came out in the committee hearing last week is that since the governor's task force on CPS was finished, the investigation arm moved in, and because of the public awareness of what was happening in CPS, you can liken it to the public education on the awareness to terrorism. If you see something, say something. The same thing is happening with CPS and the hotline. More calls are coming into the hotline. Most of those calls are serious. A lot of them are serious. Now, we have to find out why so many calls are coming in and, you know, we have to look at that. It may be an outlier, but there may be good reasons for those calls coming in.

Ted Simons: I would imagine you also have to find out why so many of those calls wind up backlogged. From what you've seen so far and heard so far, is CPS properly funded? Is CPS properly equipped?

Nancy Barto: Well, those are all answers we have to find out. We have to know what they are actually doing with the funding that they have been provided. They were given massive amounts of money this past year and they hired 200 extra case managers. We need to know what we're getting for that money. How this new training system is actually working out. Is it effective? What are the outcomes?

Ted Simons: It would seem, though -- the argument can be made that, yes, with hotlines and public awareness you're going to get an increase in cases recorded. Sounds like you're getting those increases. It's a bad thing but not necessarily bad. At least light is being shown on some of these troubling cases, but if the resources are not there to take care of the cases that doubles down the bad, doesn't it?

Nancy Barto: What we need to know is, are kids being kept safe? That is the goal. We want to make sure that we're effectively using the resources that we have given the agency. We need to know not only the plans for those monies but the outcomes. That's an important -- an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.

Ted Simons: What about foster care? The increase in foster care in Arizona seems much higher than in other states. First of all, is that true, secondly, what do you hear as for why?

Nancy Barto: Foster care is a major part of the issue. We need to understand and hold accountable the agency's relationship with foster parents. How are they doing on that? How are they evaluating the money spent? You know, with their plan is to ask for a 4-E waiver of the great number of federal dollars and to use those in different ways we need to understand what those uses are. For example, current uses for 4-E monies go to the aging out children. We need to know if monies meant for that population are going to be supplanted or if the legislature is going to have to fill in the gap there.

Ted Simons: Indeed. It sounds as though I want to get to case worker turnover in a second, but back to properly funded and such. It sounds like CPS wants another $115 million for 400-some-odd million more workers. I understand the legislature and appropriations and the dynamics therein, but is this the situation where it's so bad, and if it's such a problem that something needs to be done along those lines, I know that Clarence Carter been on the show numerous times saying I'm going to make sure we're spending the money the right way before we ask for more. He's asking for more.

Nancy Barto: We'll be listening for a detailed reason for those extra monies if they are requested. But we do need to have answers about how the money is being spent now. Those are really important questions.

Ted Simons: I know the money spent for this new investigative unit seems like it's turning up interesting information. Do you consider that a success?

Nancy Barto: That remains to be seen. We need to have accountability tools in place to evaluate those things. As yet, I don't think we have gotten the answers to those questions.

Ted Simons: So when the investigative unit says a third of cases are involving kids that had previous contact with CPS, regardless of what happens from here on in, just that information alone raises all sorts of red flags and it's important information to know I would think.

Nancy Barto: And we need to know how many prosecutions are coming out of those investigations as well.

Ted Simons: We mentioned case worker turnover. How big a problem is that?

Nancy Barto: The numbers are not good so far. Even though 200 new case workers have been hired, the turnover rate is still almost the same. It's barely dipped. We need to know why.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing as far as why?

Nancy Barto: Well, we're hearing that the new training is better, but we need to know why so many are still leaving CPS. Why supervisors are still carrying cases rather than supervising. Why supervisors are basically new case managers who have only been on the job 18 months. There are a lot of questions. Why overtime isn't being paid to supplement some of these case managers that are not being paid what they should be being paid when maybe investigators are being paid more. We have a lot of questions as to where the money ought to be prioritized.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. We do thank you for being here tonight, I know your job is to do what I'm doing, ask questions and try to find answers, but is CPS such an unmanageable beast that these questions will be extremely difficult to get the kinds of answers that we're all striving for? I mean -- we have heard and dealt with CPS for so long, can you get a better grip on this agency or is it just the nature of the beast where you can only do so much?

Nancy Barto: You know, I ask myself that question a lot. I have been at the legislature now this will be my eighth session. Every year it seems like we're asking that question. I think there's a couple of answers to that. First, CPS isn't to blame for these children that are dying in some cases. Parents are inflicting this abuse on their children. So the abuse, the initial abuse is not their fault. We're reacting to a systemic cultural problem that's horrific. So you can't just wholesale blame anyone in state government for that. You have to put the blame on who is inflicting the damage on those children. On the other hand, you do have to evaluate how well an agency is responding to such a devastating issue and a problem. And why we can't do it better. I think you just have to keep on asking the relevant questions and pointing out where the failures are happening. When CPS has investigated a case and then months later we find that that child is dead, we need to know that there's accountability for what happened there. The same goes for when a child has been reunified to a family that isn't worthy of having that child back, and that child is harmed again. Somebody needs to be held accountable. Those are the things where I think legislators and the public can demand answers. And should expect them.

Ted Simons: We'll be looking for those answers. Thanks for joining us.

Nancy Barto: Thank you, Ted.

Nancy Barto:Co-chair, CPS Oversight Committee;

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