The Arizona Republic – 01/14/14 – Editorial
Gov. Jan Brewer’s State of the State announcement that she abolished Child Protective Services was a flashback to last year, when she went off script to call for Medicaid expansion.
This year’s surprise could result in real change to a troubled agency — or it could provide a dramatic distraction from the real problem.
If the governor shows the kind of energy and determination she used to win Medicaid expansion, she might achieve reform that helps Arizona’s most vulnerable children.
But there is one important difference. Medicaid expansion did not cost the state money. It brought federal funds to the state.
Arizona’s child-welfare system has been chronically underfunded; it needs a huge infusion of money. Brewer did not identify any new sources of revenue to address this.
Lawmakers — like everyone else in the state — have been moved by the serial horror stories coming out of CPS and appalled by the news of 6,500 uninvestigated reports.
If Brewer can show that a new agency promises better results, the Legislature might be willing to provide funding. Especially if Brewer, a Republican, is once again willing to rely on a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The executive order Brewer used to abolish CPS and establish the Division of Child Safety & Family Services within the Department of Economic Security is a short-term fix.
She put Charles Flanagan in charge, a positive sign. Flanagan heads Brewer’s CARE Team, which is looking into the uninvestigated reports and preparing recommendations for revamping the child-welfare system. He was appointed by Brewer in 2011 to lead the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. He shows insights into the need for more staffing and better technology in the child-welfare agency.
Brewer is asking lawmakers to create a permanent, separate agency to handle child welfare. This is a tough and time-consuming assignment for lawmakers who were hoping to get the session over quickly so they can focus on campaigning.
Hard tasks rarely present themselves at convenient times, and Brewer is inviting the Legislature to be part of a historic change. We hope the lawmakers recognize that.
In addition to the need for lawmakers to cough up adequate funding, this task will require deep thought about the right model. A well-functioning child-welfare agency needs to remove children who are not safe in their homes, but it also needs to recognize when parents need help to succeed.
In recent years, Arizona experienced the largest increase in the number of kids entering foster care of any state, and the vast majority of those cases involved neglect, not abuse, according to Casey Family Programs.
CPS suffered cuts in services to families during the recession. It lacks enough staff to properly monitor children. A new agency will not succeed if it faces similar challenges.
CPS is also steeped in a culture of secrecy. It covered up mistakes. A new agency needs to be transparent, something Brewer stressed in her speech and executive order.
Sweeping away the name “CPS” does not change those underlying problems. It does not clear up a 10,000case backlog. It does not provide permanence for more than 15,000 kids in foster care. It does not protect one vulnerable child.
Brewer’s dramatic announcement could provide a handy distraction from that hard reality. Or it could spur lawmakers to create a better agency. We will hope for the latter.