Uninvestigated Child Abuse Cases

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Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter revealed last week that over 6,000 cases of child abuse have not been investigated over the past four years. Child Protective Services Oversight Committee Co-chair Senator Nancy Barto and Representative Debbie McCune Davis, a member of the committee, will discuss the failure to investigate the cases.

Ted Simons: Late last week, the Department of Economic Security director Clarence Carter announced over 6,000 cases of reported child abuse dating back to 2009 were not investigated. The cases were, apparently, pulled from a Child Protective Services database before being assigned to investigators. Fallout from the announcement includes everything from calls to completely restructure CPS, to demands that Clarence Carter resign. Tonight, we hear from two members of the Child Protective Services oversight committee. State Senator Nancy Barto the committee co-chair, and we're also join by committee member Representative Debbie McCune Davis. Good to have both here and thank you very much for joining us.

Nancy Barto: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Let's get right to this. 6,000 calls to a child abuse hotline somehow get lost. How?

Nancy Barto: That's what we need to find out. Absolutely. And I mean, the oversight committee was already very concerned about Arizona's rising number of cases. And being an outlier from other states and getting to the bottom of that, but now, it's absolutely critical that we have an investigation and see what happened. What we do know so far, is from initial reports, is that CPS, this was system failure. Case managers did not drop the ball here. This was somebody decided to make a category called not investigated, and place 6,000 cases into that computer category, and none of them belong there. So, what we have is case managers, who never received those cases, and those cases were not investigated. And we do know that some of those cases were critical.

Ted Simons: Labeled not investigated, not worthy of investigation. I thought these were all supposed to be investigated by statute. They are supposed to be investigated.

Debbie McCune Davis: That's, that's exactly right. The law says that every case that comes in is to be investigated. So, an internal policy that moves a case into a category that's labeled not investigated is not consistent with our law, or our expectations of how the system will perform to protect children. And that's why I think the committee was very shocked by the, learning about this and, and looking for an answer very quickly, and in fact, we were expecting a report by the end of the work day today, which has not yet arrived, that would tell us how the agency would deal with this, with this situation.

Ted Simons: Who, who came up with this NI, this not investigated, this classification that, that heretofore seems to be rather unknown?

Nancy Barto: Well, Ted, that's, that's the question of the hour. I think that the public needs to know, we certainly need to have that information, and I think that the primary reason for having an investigation. Because somebody has to be held accountable for making that decision. And then, for placing those cases in that category, where they would not be discovered for two years by the office of Child Welfare Investigators.

Ted Simons: Yeah, it - you look at this, and you say, ok, there is a mistake here putting these into a not investigated category, but who is overseeing the fact that these things were there for years? There is no follow-up on any of those calls.

Debbie McCune Davis: No, and those -- and this has been going on, apparently, to a limited degree, since 2009, but it was going on up until the time that it was discovered in August of this year. And those cases have simply not been addressed, and investigated. And what director Carter said in our committee is that they quickly went back and looked at those cases, and they were in need of investigation. And Senator Barto, you know, might recall the number that he said, but there were some that would have required criminal investigation. So, whatever policy was put in place, clearly didn't have appropriate criteria, because these were serious cases, and the, the committee and I am certain it's unanimous, want to get an explanation. But there are other concerns, too. About what's happening to the backlog of 10,000 cases that have been languishing within the system, and the high caseloads, and other things within the agency. Our oversight committee was created specifically to make certain that the money that the legislature gave the agency was being used to correct this problem.

Nancy Barto: I would agree with that, and just, you know, to your point, it calls into question, whether those SWAT team members who are specifically charged to clear the backlog are, are really worthy of our support, continued going forward because what I understand is the members of the SWAT team had to sign off on each of those cases before they were placed in that NI category. So now we have SWAT team members who are supposed to be the most highly trained case managers in the department and put them in charge of clearing additional cases, I'm not sure that's a great idea at this point.

Ted Simons: When you say SWAT team members, the fact that you are using the plural suggests there is systemic problems, there is something beyond just a couple of rogue folks doing things that no one else seems - it seems to be the case but again, we really don't know, do we?

Nancy Barto: And what Representative McCune Davis mentioned was we were supposed to have a timeline today by the close business today. And giving something as simple, well, nothing is simple when you are talking about Government, granted. However, in light of the seriousness of what we're dealing with, you would think that they had the entire weekend to at least draw up a time line their first steps and what the agency is going to do to address, to address it, at least their plan. And have that delivered according to their own deadline. And it's really indicative of what the oversight committee members are dealing with. We asked for information, and oftentimes, it's, it's -- it's woefully lacking, so we have to come back and ask more questions to clarify and I believe that there are just systemic issues, it's indicative that there are systemic problems throughout.

Ted Simons: You had mentioned the backlog of cases, 10,000 under-investigated cases out there, and waiting in the pipeline, now we have got 6,000 more that need to be addressed. What's next for CPS? How do we handle this?

Debbie McCune Davis: The real concern is that we have very high percentage of kids who are in and out of home placement, we have a backlog of cases coming into the system. If you talk it families who deal with the system, they don't get responses in a timely way, and there are some things that the agency has done to create what they call a warm line for families to be able to call in. But the bottom line is, with the resources that have been redirected to the agency, we expect the numbers to begin to level out. And I'm not certain that we can say that. And there is another component, and that's that there is an investigation that supposed to be launched by the Department of Public Safety, and I think there was an expectation stated in our committee of that that's a criminal investigation. And because this process that's clear been used within the agency over numerous years, is not consistent with our law.

Ted Simons: And is the DPS investigation, perhaps, possibly, could be a reason why you are still waiting for an outline right now?

Nancy Barto: I don't know. I hope that it's been undergoing since the news came. And the decision was made to ask DPS to do the investigation. I'm not sure if they are completely linked.

Ted Simons: Yeah. And, has anyone, and I understand, Clarence Carter is under a lot of fire here, and I want to ask both of your opinions on what needs to be done to address his work. However, does -- has the committee talked much to rank and file folks at CPS? The caseworker on the ground? Who has to deal with x, y, and z, and now, apparently, every other letter in the alphabet, as well. Are you -- what are you hearing from those folks? Are you just hearing from administration? Are you hearing what you need to hear from the boots on the ground?

Nancy Barto: You know, it's difficult to get to the rank and file. I think, you know, obviously, they have a tough job. And I think many of them are doing it exquisitely under the circumstances. But it's difficult to get clear and concise information. Because I think there is a lot of political aspects to the agency. And so I think that is one of the charges of the oversight committee is to make sure that the systems in place are working. And so oversight over each of those individual parts is critical. So, talking just to a case manager you may not get the same story as you do from a legislative liaison, for instance.

Ted Simons: Well, and but, I would ask, if -- I would want to know from that caseworker what's going on, at least maybe a group to try to get a response. And you know, legislative liaisons and administration is one thing but these folks are the ones knocking on doors and dealing with families. And something is not working out there. I would think that they would know.

Debbie McCune Davis: And that's the question. Do we really have a good understanding of what's going on in the community? The agency has provided ride-along opportunities for members of the committee to get a better understanding of what the burdens are at the agency. That's very helpful, I have done that number of times and they have tough job, and they do it well, the questions are, are they under-resourced? I know that we have encouraged the agency to improve the training. They have changed the way that the training is done, and they have changed the mechanisms by which people are retained in the job, there is interest in keeping folks there longer and not burning them out. They are doing remarkable jobs under the circumstances, but I think this commission, this committee, this oversight committee was intended to be appointed about a year ago, and it took a long time to get it up and running for a number of reasons. But I think it's really important that this oversight committee continue to work hand in hand with the agency to assure that our kids are safe.

Ted Simons: Clarence Carter, should remain the director of DES overseeing CPS?

Nancy Barto: Well, I think that remains to be seen. When we get the results of the investigation, what it shows. Somebody must be held accountable, that's for sure. Whether the strategy, if you want to call placing 6,000 cases into a non investigative category a strategy, came from the top or the bottom or the middle, whoever is responsible needs to take responsibility. And be held accountable. And I'm not sure where that lies, and where the attitude lies because, you know, as I said, it's indicative of other problems. You know, we look at other input than just caseloads. When an agency calls for another 444 case managers, as a result of this, you have to wonder well, ok. We have tried to get information about how skilled and how experienced our case managers are now. If they are just hiring the 200 that we funded recently, and we're still having a retention rate at 30%, or turnover rate at 30%, how experienced are they going to be? When they admit that their pipeline is, basically, ASU graduates. And the general length of time, the average length time for case managers are three years, so, how quickly are they advancing them to supervisors? Are we going to have new supervisors training brand new CPS workers? I'm not sure if that's the entire question, or answer, at this point. Also, when you have indications that were in other areas, compared to other states, our reunification standards may be a cause for concern. Because although we're a little tardy in reunifying families, which is a major goal in the proper context, we want families to stay together that should be staying together. However, when they are back in the system 12 months later, and that's an outlier, 19%, compared to 5% average of other states, that may be problem.

Debbie McCune Davis: Well, and it may indicate that we're not providing the resources to the caseworkers and to the families that helped to rebuild those families and have reunification. Because services in the community have been cut, and we hear that not just from CPS folks, but also from juvenile court judges, that I have talked to. They cannot get the kind resources that they would like to have in place for families to get them back together in a reasonable time frame.

Ted Simons: Well, very quickly, we talked about child assistance and family support services, and obviously, I hear you saying that these need to be bolstered, and they have been cut in the past and they need to be bolstered. With that in mind, should a Clarence Carter, who oversees this agency, how much responsibility does he have? Should he resign?

Debbie McCune Davis: Well, I'm there. I'm ready for him to go and I was giving him the benefit of the doubt when I heard that this was news to him. However, in the report that was issued in August, it's clearly stated that these cases were responded to through an in-depth alternative assessment conduct by the SWAT team. It's in their August report. This was not news. It's just that it was uncovered by Chief McKay, or Detective McKay when he was contacted by a police officer following up on the case, started to look at those cases and --

Ted Simons: And we are where we are now. And I know that you were looking forward to getting a report from, from DES, from Clarence Carter, and maybe we'll have that, perhaps, later on. We're recording early in the evening, we'll see what happens, but we thank you both for appearing with us tonight and thank you for joining us.

Nancy Barto: Thank you.

Debbie McCune Davis: Thank you.

Nancy Barto:Co-chair Senator, Child Protective Services Oversight Committee;Debbie McCune Davis:Committee Member, Child Protective Services Oversight Committee;

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