Have you ever wondered why so many children in Arizona suffer repeatedly from extreme physical and sexual abuse, even death, under the watchful eye of Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Are the staff incompetent? Are their caseloads too overwhelming? Or is the problem something completely different?
Back in 2003, State Representative Eddie Farnsworth tried to reform the system, remove the cloak of secrecy, and implement a more qualified, better trained investigative unit for criminal abuse charges, but was opposed by then Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano.
Elected into office again in 2010, Rep. Farnsworth was determined to bring meaningful reform to the system. This time, he had the backing of Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who put together a task force that included Farnsworth, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and CPS Director Clarence Clark.
The problem with the system was that the typical CPS worker, armed with a master’s degree in social work and additional training, handles 40-50 cases. These CPS workers are subject matter experts in helping children who are in an abuse or neglect situation, by helping families in need of services to be healthier families.
CPS workers are not trained to conduct a forensic assessment when initially called to a scene involving horrific sexual/physical abuse. This initial contact requires a different set of training and skills. They must accurately ascertain what is going on, determine if there are other victims, recognize critical clues in the environment, identify the perpetrator, and consider a host of other factors that are key to investigative protocol.
As explained by County Attorney Montgomery, “This is the most critical step in the child protective system. We’ve got to have a correct determination at the outset.
“There are far too many instances in Maricopa County, where we have failed our children when they needed to be removed to safety; and far too many instances where they have been removed when they should have been kept with families.
“Where government has a role, it needs to operate well. In this area of child safety, we need to operate extremely well.”
HB2721 was introduced by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth and does a number of things.
It separates responsibility for investigating allegations of criminal abuse and neglect, from responsibility for providing services where warranted.
It establishes the Office of Child Welfare Investigations within the Department of Economic Security, but outside the office of CPS, recognizing a child’s constitutional right as a victim of crime pursuant to the Arizona Constitution.
This Office would be staffed by specifically trained investigators addressing allegations of criminal abuse and neglect, working with law enforcement, and implementing the joint investigative protocol, so CPS can focus on their role of providing services to families where appropriate.
It sets forth the training and responsibilities of the members of that office, and requires that an annual report on joint investigations be produced.
This bill significantly increases the quality of the criminal abuse investigation efforts within DES.
HB2721 started its journey through the Legislature on January 31, 2012. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth shepherded it through various committees and through the House and the Senate.
On May 9, 2012, Governor Brewer signed it into law.