CARE Team Report

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The CARE Team, formed by Governor Jan Brewer to look into uninvestigated child abuse cases, has issued its report. The 50-page report reveals that understaffing and lack of training led to the uninvestigated cases. Charles Flanagan, director of the new Child Safety and Family Services agency and head of the CARE Team, will discuss the report.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The care team is a group charged by the governor's office to look into uninvestigated child abuse cases. The team released its findings late Friday in a 50 page report that describes a, quote, systemic failure at child protective services, or CPS. Charles Flanagan head of the care team and director of the new child safety and family services agency is here to discuss the report. Good to see you again. Thank you so much for joining us.

Charles Flanagan: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Systemic failure at was once CPS. Explain, please.

Charles Flanagan: As you know, the governor became aware that after attempts to address issues at CPS, that there was a much bigger problem when Greg McKay, who is the chief of the office of child welfare investigations, that she created, along with the legislature discovered so many not investigated cases. Which is contrary to law and policy. So as a result of that, she created the DPS administrative investigation directive, she then also created the CARE team, which as you know from my being on the show earlier, was to not only investigate those cases, but identify the persons, the personnel, the programs and the policies that created the N.I. situation and that were problematic for the operation of CPS. What we discovered was that virtually nobody was following policy or statute, that there was nothing codified in policy that supported it, that it was basically decided by at this point my knowledge is a small group of people who are in a position of authority in CPS. And that it began to grow and grow and grow to the point where we had 6,554, cases that we identified. Beyond that, there were no internal checks and balances that were appropriate to the situation. So the people that were doing what they called Q.A., were the same people who decided that N.I. was a good thing to do, which doesn't even make sense, because N.I. was counter productive in many respects. And then the checks and balances had no ability to identify a problem because they were all deeply engaged in this practice.

Ted Simons: Basically investigating yourselves in other words.

Charles Flanagan: Correct.

Ted Simons: That lack of accountability, which was outlined in the report, there was an accountability system in place, or was that accountability system in place flawed by its nature?

Charles Flanagan: I did not see evidence of an accountability system. That is not to say there isn't an accountability system just simply one that I didn't see as we looked at the process that was in place at the former division, and then CPS itself.

Ted Simons: They weren't necessarily ignoring a system, as far as you could tell, there was just no accountability there.

Charles Flanagan: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Lack of transparency was also mentioned in the report. What kind of information are we talking about here that wasn't transparent?

Charles Flanagan: So here's what's interesting. CPS produced lots of reports as is required. Those reports were based upon the information that was entered into the child system, which the governor's identified as a big problem, and needs to be addressed, and has in her budget, proposed changes so that we can in fact replace that system. The system itself is antiquated and flawed. I can tell you we had great difficulty getting information from the database that we could use in reporting on the care team. I was also told that I couldn't be reporting any of our outcomes, any of the work that we were doing, because typically CPS doesn't admit or DES doesn't admit there's even an investigation ongoing. Because of an interpretation of CAPTA, which is a federal act that implies to at least here in Arizona, people that we shouldn't be releasing any information, because it's protected. I disagree with that, and I know there are other states that disagree with that. And so it's really I believe absolutely important for us to have a system in place whereby we report what we're doing, we report our outcomes without betraying the confidence of the children involved, the families involved. So we can protect those identities, and still report information that will allow us then to be held accountable. How can you hold someone accountable when you don't know what they're doing and whether or not what they're doing is the right thing or not the right thing?

Ted Simons: Was that a misrepresentation of these privacy laws? Was it a willful use of these privacy laws as a shield? What are you seeing there?

Charles Flanagan: I can't really answer to the motivation behind this. I have not even yet met with the attorney general's office. I have one scheduled meeting scheduled with them shortly. But what I can tell you is that their interpretation is that we have to be circumspect on what we release, which I agree with. But it doesn't mean you should not release information. We should release information, and I've talked to colleagues in other states that believe, and we should be knocking on the door of the federal government by the way and asking them how they interpret it, but my colleagues in other states believe that it gives them the freedom to communicate information such as what I'm describing, so that you can in fact be open and transparent and Governor Brewer made it clear to me that in the CARE team process, and I know that that has been the case while I've been at ADJC, Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, now at this new division she's created, that we have reported information and we can be held accountable for that information. And this new division of child safety and family services fully intends to be open, transparent, and be held accountable for what we do.

Ted Simons: Back to the report. Bad decision making is a quote here from the report. You mentioned the small group of folks you think had taken this N.I., not investigated, and it mushroomed from there. Was that decision -- Was it the result of negligence? Or these people incompetent? Is there a little bit of both? What was going on here?

Charles Flanagan: Let me lead in by saying the department of public safety investigation, the administrative investigation, is not yet complete. But I do know that now that I'm the director of this division that governor created, that report will come to me, I will review it and then I'll be in a position to take administrative disciplinary action. However, the logic that was given to me was that this process really began around a time when the economic downturn occurred. Somebody thought it would be a good idea, without anybody codifying this process, quite frankly, to remove reports from the flow back out into the field that were low priority. So, in other words, it would give the appearance as though that we were not as far behind as you might assume. The problem is, that it snowballs when you enter that process again, you went from 666 cases in 2009 to over 2,000 cases and then almost 3,000 cases in an incomplete fiscal year. So if you take a look at that decision making, it was flawed from a number of perspectives. First you are working counter to your argument that you need more resources if you hide the fact that you had 6,554 cases. We have a backlog now of cases that are low priority of over 10,000. I've heard that it's probably over 11,000 at this point, and if you add those 6,000 cases in, that's a stronger argument for the resources that you need. So it was counterproductive, it was a bad decision, and it was also not a decision that was supported by policy or law.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, the reason I asked that question, we've been talking about this on this program, you have a private company, and people make the kind of mistakes, the kind of negligence if you will we have seen in this report regarding people at CPS, it's like a bowling alley with all the heads rolling down the hallway. Heads aren't rolling so far. People want to know why.

Charles Flanagan: I think that's an excellent question, but let me remind everybody the governor took immediate and very strong action by creating an outside entity investigation, so DPS is investigating from outside, something they've done before. So that she has the information with which we can then make administrative decisions. So consider this for the moment -- Right now we don't know everybody that's involved in this. There are five people that Director Carter placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation. And it's a difficult investigation, because once you interview someone you end up with a couple of more interviews you have to do, based on my past experience, and then you have to go to the database. You have to go to the information to find out who did what when, where, why, and how. And that's a time consuming process. We want to get it right. We want to know exactly what happened, who made those decisions, so that we can in fact take the right action. And the action will be commensurate with the problem we discovered.

Ted Simons: Before you go, you've talked about accountability, about transparency, you've talked about proper decision making. Properly interpreting federal and state guidelines. We've heard some of this kind of thing before. We've -- CPS has been a problem forever. Why should our viewers hear you, listen to you and say, it's all going to change and it's all going to change for the better.

Charles Flanagan: So that's a really excellent question. Quite frankly, as the director of this new division, I'm the person that is responsible for what happens in this agency from this point forward. So I don't say lightly that we should be held accountable. It's what I've done all of my career and I intoned do it going forward. Put that aside, with all of the many years of problems, and this cycle of problem of a problem of problem that's occurred, who before has ever created action that has led to the potential for such significant change? I am absolutely amazed at the incredibly strategic and well thought-out and quite frankly exciting bold action the governor took by declaring that this division is separate from DES, that the director of this division reports to her as a cabinet level agency head would do, and then invited the legislature to take action to make this a separate department. But it doesn't stop there. She's not only talking the talk, she's also walking the walk. Her supplemental budget gets us started down the road of hiring the positions that are needed to fill the vacancies that -- Horrific 25 to 30 percent attrition rate of people coming in and leaving within months of coming in in many cases because of the crushing workload. But then again, in the next fiscal year to give us the resources we need to make these kind of changes. Secondarily, this agency now will be a much smaller entity than the big behemoth DHS. This will have a great deal of scrutiny from the governor, from the legislature, not that we're already not having that scrutiny, from the media, and from the public. And there should be that scrutiny. We should be questioning everything that happens. It is my intent that we will have policies that are compliant with law, and that we will have procedures that are compliant with policy, and we will inspect on that on an ongoing basis just as I have done in other agencies.

Ted Simons: All right. It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Charles Flanagan: Thank you.

Charles Flanagan:Director, Child Safety and Family Services agency and CARE Team;

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