The Arizona Department of Public Safety released its report on Arizona’s Child Protective Services and five CPS officials were fired afterwards. Charles Flanagan, the director of the Department of Child Services and Family Safety, will discuss the report.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Department of Public Safety released its report on Arizona's Child Protective Services yesterday. As a result of the findings, five CPS supervisors and a top DES administrator were fired. Here now to discuss the report is Charles Flanagan, director of the Division of Child Services and Family Safety. Thank you so much for being here.
Charles Flanagan: You're very welcome.
Ted Simons: I know you're a busy man right now. The investigation, what did it focus on, what did it find?
Charles Flanagan: So the governor when she discovered that the former CPS did not investigate thousands of cases that required investigation under the law, passed the department of public safety was conducting an administrative investigation to determine who did what, why and how. It's just the basics of who did what and how they did and over what period of time.
Ted Simons: Basically an administrative review.
Charles Flanagan: That's exactly right. Now shortly thereafter she created the care team which we talked about previously on the show and the care team really identified many of those same issues. But its focus was on the system and the process and how we should make those changes that would prevent something like this happening again. DPS, the report gave us the ability to move forward, knowing what happened in the past, so that we could take personnel actions and begin to repair the damage.
Ted Simons: It sounds like a small group of CPS supervisors were at fault here. What did this group do?
Charles Flanagan: So the process began around 2009. And in 2009, there were and budget issues and a group of employees, not necessarily those that were involved most recently and were in the news began the process of screening out reports. The problem was that it wasn't allowed by law and it wasn't codified in policy. Then it stopped after a brief window of opportunity and the agency began to move forward without that process. Now, I call it a process but it really wasn't codified so that makes it very difficult. And then at a point in about 2011, a group of employees at administrative and managerial levels decided that they were going to reinstitute the process of N.I., to screen out cases and not allow them to get into the field so they would be added to the workload that's in the field currently. The problem again with that was that it was never codified and what they were doing changed over time, and then lastly, it was wrong because the law says you must investigate those things that rise to the level of a report.
Ted Simons: And they did this what to lighten the workload because of this 10,000 which I think is even more now but this back log of cases? It sounds as though was this malicious, was this trying to do something good, even though it wound up doing something not good at all?
Charles Flanagan: We can really only infer what people might have done this for, the reason they might have done this and there are proccesses in other states that are codified in law where a reports are screened out and you do not investigate everything in those states. The problem is you can't do things that are contrary to law and you can't do things that are contrary to policy. The second part of this problem was that the agency operated really without reference to policy or statute and so people were able to independently do things without checks and balances in place. So we can presume that they were trying to keep these cases out of the stream of work and there is a crushing workload that the employees of this agency are doing right now. And this made in their minds potentially some difference. The problem is it had terrible outcomes. The process was not implemented correctly, even if it were codified. And we've discovered tremendous harm as a result of that.
Ted Simons: Was this an original idea by someone or some group of people in 2009? Or is this something that may have occurred in previous years?
Charles Flanagan: It's a great question. One of the things that came out in the report is the system we used, the database we used is called Childs and Childs was bought after somebody else had used it in another state from another state and it was never really adapted appropriately to what our needs are. So it's a very difficult system to work with. Within that system, there was this ability, this tool called N.I. It was built into the database wherever it was used before and whoever generated this in the first place and it was never disabled or not used in this state. So there actually were three I believe it was reports prior to 2009 that were identified as an anomaly, as N.I. We don't know the reason for that or why it happened. Someone discovered that and used that in 2009 for a total 666 of reports. But then it stopped. And when it started again, it looks like the catalyst for this group beginning that process again, including some people that are no longer with the agency, that had left long before I came in with the care team and before I became the director made the decision to reinstitute this process. But there was a communication problem in the agency and quite frankly, I don't think people really all knew what was happening and that was clear from this report, as well.
Ted Simons: I was going to say the report seemed to indicate they tried to hide this activity.
Charles Flanagan: You know, you have to question when there's a very small number of people who have control over this and a very number of people, the same group, that have access to the information, so that the people in the field and I want to stress again what the governor said in the beginning and what I believe wholeheartedly, the vast majority of employees at the former CPS are good people who do a tough job with very little respect and pay and they stay because they care about the safety of children and they care about families and they're doing this work and people come along and give this black eye. But even in addition to that, what we discovered was that there were only 6,552 of the original N.I.s that were in the database. We discovered, however, there were cases that had a broken disposition. Somebody went in and changed the disposition in the report, which meant all of the historical information disappeared. That to me doesn't look kosher and in the end we found that we had a total of 6,596 of which 6,595 needed to be reported. So that's a big difference and something happened and we learned that when people were questioning why a case was not investigated, changes were made to some of those.
Ted Simons: A top des administrator was let go, as well. Do we know what she did and how long she did it?
Charles Flanagan: I want to make sure that everybody understands the process. The people that were separated by me, that fell under the division of child safety and family services and the person that fell under DES that were separated, they were separated as per personnel rules, they were given a very simple letter that said your services are no longer required, effective 5 p.m. today, you will no longer be with the agency, return state equipment, and then we took their identification cards and they left. That dismissal did not give cause. So there's cause, there's a reason for this, but the process is not one that outlines the cause. The bottom line is that this was a cadre of people that had communicated back and forth that had authorized or worked and were involved in this process and sustained it over a long period of time.
Ted Simons: Clarence Carter apparently not implicated in this report and a lot of people are wondering how all this can go on and the head of the agency not be implicated. How much can you speak to that?
Charles Flanagan: Well, I can only really say two things. First, it's not within my purview and we're talking about two cabinet-level directors. But I will say this there was no evidence that I saw and the report itself was very large. And there was a lot of material that needed to be read as we went through this report. Most of it was e-mails back and forth, and reports that were given. And nowhere within those e-mails communicating about this, including e-mails saying things like, you know, we really can't use the term N.I. because really by law we can't do this. But nowhere in there was Clarence Carter's name on the heading as having received it or been copied on those communications. The second thing and this is why I'm so impressed by the governor's actions because we have had problems with CPS over many decades in this state and she took action that no one has taken before and separated this division of child safety and family services out. Now imagine for a moment when I looked at the organizational chart for DES, it is huge. It is the largest bureaucracy in state government. It has vastly different divisions and units that focus on very different things and it's all been thrown together in an organization. So child protective services was a tiny little speck on the organizational chart at the bottom. So, you know, I will share with you that at the department of corrections when I worked there, it's very difficult to know everything that goes on but I feel responsible for what happens under my watch and you have to have the ability to oversee that and manage it.
Ted Simons: Indeed. And that's why again some were wondering about that particular note in the report. Last, a minute left here. 65,66 hundred cases here, not investigated. Have they all been addressed?
Charles Flanagan: Yes, every single case is being investigated, over 4,000 have been closed. We are looking at closing a significant number in very short order and we're hopeful that within the next couple of months we will have completed all of these cases.
Ted Simons: And real quickly this all happened it seems like because there was a 10,000 some odd case back log and some folks were misguided apparently, allegedly in trying to deal with that back log. It's even bigger now, isn't it?
Charles Flanagan: That's correct. So the original inception of this team that was put together called the swat team, really inept name, but what they were supposed to do was look at that 9,000 case plus, back log, and then process those cases so they could be closed. And then the mission morphed and a small group of them became responsible for screening these reports out and hiding them from the field.
Ted Simons: Well, it's good to have you here, thank you so much for talking to us about the report. I would like to get you back now once the legislature figures about what it's going to do regarding your new as yet unnamed agency.
Charles Flanagan: Thank you.
Charles Flanagan:Director, Department of Child Services and Family Safety;