The state legislature’s Child Protective Oversight Committee heard from the director of the Department of Public Safety on its investigation on why child abuse cases were ignored. State Representative Debbie McCune Davis, who is a member of the oversight committee, talks about what was discussed at the meeting.
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The legislature's child protective services oversight committee heard from the director of public safety yesterday on a DPS investigation into how and why CPS ignored thousands of child abuse reports. Representative Debbie McCune Davis is a member of the oversight committee. Good to see you again. What was learned from DPS on the CPS probe?
Debbie McCune Davis: We didn't learn much. The director was there at the hearing and spent some time explaining to us what his agency was doing, but to sum it up it's just an administrative review. When pushed for some detail he essentially said he would report whatever his findings were back to the director of child protective services and then the director of child protective services would make it public. That was concerning.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask about that. What do you think?
Debbie McCune Davis: I was concerned that in the second hearing when the question came up about why this was referred to DPS, I asked why. Because I knew they would report back to the agency or to the governor. I didn't think that was what the public wanted. What concerns me in all of these conversations is that the public needs to know what's going on with child protective services. Essentially these are internal reviews, not the kinds of reviews that are going to be helpful in restoring people's faith that CPS is working well.
Ted Simons: And, yet, CPS apparently will get Clarence Carter, director of DES, he vows to release this within hours after getting it, the governor's office has to see it, have to make sure they say that secret material may not be in there. They want to double check on that.
Debbie McCune Davis: I understand that's their process and I think that is what he has to say, but the public wants to know more. References yesterday, were looking at what people are doing and who is doing them and the emails. It sounds to me like they have a probe going on. I'm not certain the public will ever really know.
Ted Simons: Ever?
Debbie McCune Davis: I think we'll see a report. You heard from the care team chair.
Ted Simons: You also heard from the care team chair, any information there?
Debbie McCune Davis: Yes. I thought he did a very nice job of explaining what the care team is doing, giving us an update. I think he was very reassuring in explaining that he's taking the mission seriously. He gave us -- the numbers update is important but not really as important as knowing that someone is looking at those cases and making certain those children are safe. He did say that. I thought he did that with some confidence, with some accountability. There wasn't much detail in what he provided but he did it in a way that made us feel the job was getting done.
Ted Simons: It sounds as though between DPS, the presentation and the care team, the oversight committee from the governor's office, they are both -- things are going along and when we get something to you we'll get something to you?
Debbie McCune Davis: Yes. Nobody was willing to give us a timeline for when they will complete their work. In one case it was not a willingness to do it, the other was, we'll do our work until we're finished with our work. That's concerning. We have to remember, these are cases that are outside the normal course of work of CPS. This isn't the whole problem. This is the tip of the iceberg. The agency is still backed up. The case loads are too high. The uninvestigated cases continue to climb. Frankly, the budget going into 2015, the agency really appears to be asking for money to do nothing more than case load growth.
Ted Simons: How much responsibility -- increasing concern and question, how much responsibility does the governor's office, the legislature have in all in this in that CPS is supposed report somewhat regularly to the governor's office and to the legislature? Did you get those reports, and could this not have been found earlier by way of those reports?
Debbie McCune Davis: Well, there are reports filed. There are semiannual reports but there was also an oversight committee that was statutorily created that the leadership of the legislature took a very long time to appoint members. We should have been meeting a year ago and we should have been looking at how the money appropriated to child protective services was being spent. But there was a delay in the appointment process then a delay because of the problems in the Senate with Senator Murphy's encounters with child protective services getting the group up and running. I think since the committee has been meeting we have been making pretty good progress what. Like best about the committee it's not just legislators. It's folks from within the community that CPS interfaces with including very vocal foster parent groups.
Ted Simons But again, it's been reported from October of to march of there were some odd reports that had the words not responded to on the report. And the question is, did no one see that and did no one question that and if so, why? People were -- CPS is a problem child in more ways than one. You would think people would be looking over that sort of thing.
Debbie McCune Davis: Well, there are people looking at it. Child advocates have been not only looking at it but meeting with CPS on a regular basis. The cases that have been talked about are not any cases, not N.I.s but AIs, alternate investigations. The agency has assured the community over and over again that those children were looked at and that they were handled appropriately. As to the legislative reports, the reports that we looked at, myself and a couple of went back through them, the AIs are reported, the alternate investigations. The cases that are assigned and then after you do the math and back out the numbers you come up with a number of not investigated, but the reports that I looked at didn't have cases that were listed as not investigated.
Ted Simons: Because apparently some of the cases, the words â€˜not investigated' and â€˜not responded' to were included in the reports and you're saying there's no way the governor's office or the legislature would have seen these?
Debbie McCune Davis: I'm saying the reports I looked at didn't have those. They may have been older reports but we were curious as to how the agency and frankly case workers in the community, some who have left the agency, said people were aware that that's how these cases were being handled. There's real confusion about how those cases were essentially taken off the investigation list.
Ted Simons: So with all this said and everything moving as it is, are Arizona kids safer now than when this news came out?
Debbie McCune Davis: I think people are interested in getting the problem fixed. So in that sense, I think we are beginning to address that. But at the public hearing, the forum hosted by children's action alliance, it was really clear from the community that this agency is viewed as overburdened and that the case workers are carrying too large case loads, they are not getting the kind of support they need and that's how we have to solve this problem. We have to do more than just address case load growth. We have to look at putting resources in place to prevent kids from coming into the system and many of the programs that did that in the past have been defunded or minimally funded. We're not doing what we need for families. There's a lot of work left to do.
Ted Simons: All right, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Debbie McCune Davis:State Representative and Member, Child Protective Oversight Committee;