Child Abuse Cases

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Continued problems with how the state is handling child-abuse cases are resulting in calls by one lawmaker for more safeguards when children are re-united with high-risk parents. Representative Kate Brophy McGee will tell us more about her plans.

TED SIMONS: Continued problems with how the state is handling child abuse cases are resulting in calls by one lawmaker for more safeguards when children are reunited with high-risk parents. Here now is that state lawmaker, representative Kate Brophy McGee. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: You're calling for DCS, department of child safety to change the way it handles some of these higher risk cases. What exactly are you seeing out there? What exactly do you want?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: What I'd like to see is that when a -- in the case of substance exposed newborns, newborns addicted to drugs when they're born whose parents are also using drugs, that they are removed from the home and then depending on whether the parents create -- go through the rehab programs and things they're supposed to do, they're returned back to the parents. And in the case is subsequently closed. With the death of little ALEJANDRO two weeks ago, horrendous murder of this child, I think I hit the wall. I have called for continuous drug testing for parents who want to be parents, who want their children back in the home. I called for DCS to be able to keep the case open longer. Once they have completed all of the programs, and I've called for continued oversight.

TED SIMONS: Now, this case, let's talk about this case, because, again, this is pivotal and it seems like the cases get worse every time. This is atrocious situation out here. A four-year-old kept in a closet, terrible injuries, 15 pounds and yet a younger sibling was removed and what they couldn't -- they didn't know that this girl was either still in the house or could have been in the house or was returning to the house?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: DCS was very well aware that there was a prior removal of the child who was murdered and her older brother. DCS asked where are the other two children? They were told that those children are no longer in the country. I want DCS to be able to say, look, we need to see all of the children. We need to understand where they are, what kind of shape they're in. You just had another baby born addicted.

TED SIMONS: Oh, my goodness. Give DCS authority to require proof that other kids are not in the home. Does this business of requiring additional counseling and parenting, what kind of classes are we talking about here and how long does it go on?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: Well, I keep thinking about the different areas of life in which we drug test for employees, for -- in sensitive jobs. For truck drivers, for athletes. Why can't we do that for parents who have shown they are subject to addiction and they have subjected their children to addiction. We have cases of babies born addicted over and over and over again to the same parents. I hear from foster parents, I hear from grandparents about the fact that the kids, the mom can't get straight. The dad can't get straight. And these kids keep going back in these homes. It's not safe. We require more of foster parents to hold these children. Then we turn around and put them in an unsafe home it makes no sense.

TED SIMONS: And yet there are those who say that the emphasis on family reunification, in the long run, if it is -- obviously a horrendous situation you want no part of, even if there are question marks and not the best, it is still better for that child. You've heard those arguments.

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: My question is at what point does a family quit being a family? When is it not a family? So, when you have parents who are addicts who continually take drugs over and over again, I would say that the children's right to a family need to be considered.

TED SIMONS: The impact in all of this, of too few foster families out there. One thing to say let's get tough on these families and get these kids out of there. Where are they going to go?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: I think that is something we are dealing with. We have found places for these children. What I do know is that what happened to ALEJANDRA should not happen to more children and it will happen if we continue this senseless policy of reunification in the face of continued drug addiction and drug use. So, I think those are all problems we need to solve as part of standing up this new agency. But we have got to find a way to keep these children safe and recognize their right to a safe life and a safe existence.

TED SIMONS: Can you do that though? I'm going back to the foster family situation. Federal lawsuit against the foster care system here in Arizona. There are too few families, and I think we're all looking for more transparency as far as the reunification process, even though things seem to be improving. I mean, we have heard reports that there are a lot of kids that are going to group homes now because of so few foster families. Does that side of the equation need overhauling as well?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: One of the bright things we heard in our DCS oversight meeting two weeks ago was the fact that Arizona scores high on national standards, on the safety of our foster homes and our group homes. The amount of problems that are experienced there is better than the national average. So, our foster families are doing a darn good job. The group homes are a safer place to put children than in a home where there is rampant drug use, and I think we can, if we start looking at the underlying problems related to drug abuse, we might get closer to adopting policies. But at the end the day, it's keeping these kids safe.

TED SIMONS: Do you believe that right now there is too much of an emphasis on family reunification?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: I do. I think family reunification needs to be considered not just with the parents in mind, but with the kids in mind. Kids need a family. And they can't -- if I could tell you the number of stories that I have heard where children have been removed from their parents' home, their birth parents home, three, four, five times and mom and dad still can't get it right. These kids deserve a future.

TED SIMONS: And yet we will hear from some folks. I know we will, who will say that DCS, CPS in its day, took my kids for this reason, took my kids for that reason. They abused their authority. They overstepped their bounds. How do you strike that balance? Can you strike that bounds? Is perfection being sought after and perfection just simply can't be found?

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: I don't know if we can ever strike that balance. When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, I think we can get this better than what we're doing.

TED SIMSONS: And before we let you go, I want your -- job DCS is doing. A caseworker left a card in the door and we wind up with a child dead again. Overall, what are you seeing out of the new agency and the challenges --

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: Overall I'm seeing the transparency that was part of a law I spent the last two years putting together and got a lot of help getting passed this past year. If you think about it, we are finding out real-time, the week it happens, the day it happens, what DCS's involvement in these children in these horrible cases are. We can learn from that. In addition, I think we're beginning to understand what a complex agency this is and how it deals with so many different entities, from the courts to the attorney general's office, to law enforcement, to the department of economic security. I think with the information that we are getting with this new transparency, we will be able to do some policy fixes and adjustments so that this agency can function better, and we can give them the tools that they need to keep these kids safe.

TED SIMONS: All right. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

KATE BROPHY MCGEE: Thank you for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

VIDEO: In northwest Arizona, off state route 95, stands a peculiar monument to the town -- oddly the marker is 15 miles from the town it honors. West into the black mountains, mining town of oatman was established at the turn of the century. By the 1930s, nearly 2 million ounces of gold had been extracted from the surrounding mines. The price of gold and World War II forced the closure of the mines in the '40s. The town was delivered another blow when in 1952, a stretch of Interstate 40 opened, siphoning off oatman's life blood, route 66 traffic. It quickly became a ghost town. Route 66 is again its life blood. Nostalgia for the mother road and the old west draw tourists from all over the world. Walk the boardwalks, hang with the local gun fighters and are followed around by oatman's most famous residents, burrows, descendants of those set free by miners years ago. Closer to Nevada than the town itself, oatman's misplaced monument is long forgotten but the town is remembered daily.

Kate Brophy McGee:Arizona State Representative

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