Today at the Arizona Legislature

1401229184000-arizona-capitolThe Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB1002 to fund the new Department of Child Safety (CPS).

The Senate Health & Human Services Committee passed SB1001, with amendments from Ed Ableser (changing the purpose of DCS) and Nancy Barto (technical issues) creating the new Department of Child Safety.

In the House the Health & Human Services Committee had been the committee to work with the CPS issue. Today, Speaker of the House Andy Tobin changed the committee to Public Safety to vote on the current bill and move it out of committee. This committee has not been the committee addressing CPS during this past session. The Public Safety Committee passed HB2001 creating the new Department of Child Safety.

The House Appropriations Committee passed HB2002 to fund the new Department of Child Safety CPS).

We gave testimony in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee today. It did raise questions among committee members. It made enough of an impact that Director Flanagan approached us after the House session in order to speak with us. He has promised to read our 53 page report and respond to it.

Legislators in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee that were receptive and seemed to understand the issue from the family’s perspective were Sen. and Chairwoman Nancy Barto, Sen. Kelli Ward and Sen. Ed Ableser. The one legislator that believes CPS “saves” children is Sen. David Bradley, a former CPS employee.

While both the appropriations bill and the bill to create the new department are expected to pass tomorrow without any problems, our work is not done.

The new department is only the foundation of the new agency. There is much work to be done to get meaningful legislation before the next session in January to fix the problems within CPS that are leading to the number of children being removed from families. Many legislators understand the problem and are reaching out to us to continue working on the problem.

Director Flanagan gave an extension presentation on the new structure of CPS, policy changes, efforts to reach out to community resources, and a commitment to work on prevention so removal may not be necessary. He expressed an understanding that removal of the child from the family is not always necessary and not always in the best interest of the child. While much of it sounded good, little of it is written in the legislation making it agency policy and procedures only. With a different direct this could mean huge problems in the future. Another concern was his definition of abuse and neglect.

A good foundation was laid out today to continue our fight to improve the CPS system.

Shawnna Bolick has been extremely supportive of our efforts. We met with her for 2 hours last week to discuss CPS. Today she helped facilitate meetings for us with legislators. Shawnna is running for the House in LD28 against Kate Brophy-McGee.

Kelli Ward made sure we knew about the session today and helped us get on the floor to speak.

We want to thank the people who called or emailed their House and Senate members. Many of the legislators today expressed the concerns brought up from these conversations. They are listening.

We want to thank everyone who helped us get our voice heard.

Protecting the Children while Destroying the Child.

cps_logo_flag1[1]Do you believe Arizona’s families are more abusive than other states? Yet Arizona ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to child protective services.

Did you know that children in foster care are at a far greater risk of failure in adult life? A recent study by the National Health Statistics Report dated May 7, 2014, Adverse Family Experiences Among Children in Non-Parental Care, reveals that only 18.7% of children in foster care have no adverse family experiences compared to 70% of the children raised by their parents. Nearly half of the children in foster care have 4 or more adverse experiences.

Do you truly want to help the children?

Now is the time for the state to take the correct actions. You had it right when both houses unanimously passed SB1386 to spend $250,000 for an independent review of the current CPS system in Arizona.

In the past 20 months Arizona’s CPS has removed more than 5,000 additional children from their families, with the state standing at over 16,000 children in foster care today. If those 5,000 children were all placed in foster care it cost the state $3,000,000 per month just in foster care placement! Why would the governor not be willing to spend $250,000 to get an independent review to be sure the state makes the correct decisions before moving forward? Is it not fiscally responsible to fully investigate the problem before throwing another $60 million to find it only made the situation worse?

Why is it every time Arizona has a media crisis over child welfare does the state have another governor’s task force which results in more spending and an increase in the number of children in foster care, only to have the next media crisis a few years later because another group of children weren’t protected? The C.A.R.E. team is no different.

The C.A.R.E. team based their recommendations on input from those within the agency and those directly benefiting from the removal of children. They refused to accept information from the victims of CPS abuse, from the families of the children removed from their homes. They didn’t want to hear from the other side of the issue.

Our family lived through the removal of 9 grandchildren by CPS in Arizona. We witnessed first hand the abuse of the system itself. We experienced what no family should ever have to experience. The children became victims of a system that believes they are above the law in refusing to obey those laws the Arizona legislature has already put in place. Arizona actually has some of the best family rights/child protection laws in place. The problem isn’t always the law. The problem today is an out-of-control agency who refuses to abide by the law.

Unfortunately there are abusive parents in the world making a child protection agency necessary. But that agency should not be causing more abuse and permanent damage to the child than even a marginal family. Yet that is what we have today in Arizona.

Instead of become a victim of the system, we chose to observe, document, report and become an advocate for the protection of children and families. We created a citizens report of our own experience with CPS and the deficiencies we witnessed throughout the process. Our report is based on what went wrong within the system and our recommendations of what could be changed to improve the system.

Our report is attached. We hope you will take the time before the special session beginning on Tuesday to review our information, the information the C.A.R.E. team refused to accept. Then we hope you will once again support the spending of $250,000 for an independent review to analyze all sides of the problem to create an agency that will truly protect the child. We do not need to continue down the path of expanding the agency with the mission of “protecting the children while destroying the child.”

AZ Project 2014 Recommendations

 

New Reports on Foster Care, Child Welfare, CPS

 

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

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The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services failed to disburse some $1.8 million in child support and other payments owed to foster children when they reached adulthood and left the system, according to a new audit issued by the County Auditor-Controller.

The department has also been sitting on $7.2 million in funds that were designated for foster kids, but the funds were instead held in reserve. The agency, now that this has been exposed, must now come up with a plan to spend the money appropriately.

In the report issued to the County Board of Supervisors, Acting Auditor-Controller John Naimo said that Dcfs was notified about the discrepancy back in 2002, and that it simply failed to correct it.

“Dcfs needs to ensure Child Support Trust Fund monies are returned to former foster care children,” Auditor Naimo wrote.

Blue Ribbon Foster Care Report

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It’s been while since someone issued an actual “blue ribbon” foster care report. This one comes from Los Angeles County. That’s right – the same LA County that was lambasted by the Auditor-Controller. The report is entitled The Road to Safety for Our Children.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection was established after the death of Gabriel Fernandez. The commission conducted 15 public hearings, interviewed hundreds of child welfare leaders, workers and advocates, and examined 28 recent child fatalities.

 


 

CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR

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Report 2013-110 was released in April. Among the findings is that while the number of accusations called in to the hotlines is at a high level, the substantiation rate is very low. “Receiving nearly 482,000 allegations of maltreatment of children in 2013, California child welfare services (CWS) agencies substantiated more than 16 percent and removed more than 31,000 children from their homes as a result of their investigations.”

Still, removing 31,000 children from their homes in one year is troubling, and particularly so in view of the Auditor’s finding: “The three county child welfare services (CWS) agencies that we visited are not adequately ensuring that their decisions to remove or not remove children from homes are appropriate.” The audit covers Butte County, Orange County, and San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.

 


 

OREGON

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Secretary of State Audit Report, Keeping the State of Oregon Accountable, Fiscal Year 2013. $24,118,064 in questioned costs in the Department of Human Services. Siilar findings are repeated “year after year.” The Department of Human Services, Oregon Health Authority, and Housing and Community Services Department did not establish adequate internal controls and were not materially compliant with federal requirements for five programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, Medicaid, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance. We issued qualified opinions on these five programs in fiscal year 2013.

 


 

LOUISIANA

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Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera released an audit on April 9th. What’s new here? Oh, the usual stuff. “High turnover, thinner staffing and heavier caseloads are among the most pressing challenges Dcfs faces,” according to the audit, which found that department officials have not always assessed household risk factors consistently, and that they had improperly referred over 2,600 cases to a lower level of care “when an abuse investigation should have been opened.”

“Overall, we found that Dcfs did not always conduct its child welfare activities in accordance with its policies and other requirements,” says the report.

 


 

ILLINOIS

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DCFS Inspector General Denice Kane always finds something interesting to write about. In her annual report, 2014, there are a lot of good reads.

Shortly after a Ceo left Illinois, after giving himself a fat raise and being ousted from his office, he started up a new company out of state. Thereafter,

the agency, an out of state based agency attempted to become licensed in Illinois. A licensing examination by the Illinois Child Welfare Agency revealed that the former Ceo had become the Executive Vice-President of the out of state organization and was now in communication with Department administrators to become a licensed Child Welfare Agency in Illinois. The Inspector General reviewed communications between the former Ceo and Department administrators assisting him through the licensing process in Illinois.

The Inspector General discovered that one of the Department administrators who was involved in contract negotiations submitted a personal recommendation to the former Ceo when he asked for suggestions in hiring personnel for the new agency.

In addition, the Inspector General learned that another Department administrator, in charge of the Department’s Monitoring Division, had received the complaint from the Board alleging gross misappropriation of agency funds, but had taken no action and had only filed the complaint. He did not advise the new Director of its contents. Once the Department’s new Director was alerted to the allegations against the former CEO, negotiations with the out of state Agency were suspended. This Administrator is no longer with the Department.

The Inspector General also found that the Former CEO owned a for-profit film company, to which he may have diverted some of the Agency funds. The Inspector General’s Office worked cooperatively with the Attorney General’s Office throughout this investigation.

There is much more to be found in her report.

 


 

WASHINGTON STATE

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From Washington State, released this February, Performance Audit, The Experiences and Perspectives of Washington Families who Adopted Children from Foster Care.

“Needs and access varied by the service. For example, the program helps families access the most-needed service – individual counseling for children. But the second most-needed service – family counseling – had the greatest unmet need compared to the other services.

“The families most likely to need help had the most difficulty getting all the services they needed. Sixteen percent of the families we surveyed are raising children with diagnosed disabilities that severely aff ect their lives. Of these families, 57 percent reported unmet service needs. These families were more likely to need, but less likely to get, the services we asked about in the survey.”

Also, Washington State Auditor’s Office, Whistleblower Investigation Report, Department of Social and Health Services, Report No. 1011790. May 12, 2014.

“In 19 of these 33 cases we found unsupported expenditures for items such as clothing, a computer and computer repair and mileage reimbursements for foster parents, some of which may have been unallowable. We also identified overpayments that were not sent to the Department’s Office of Financial Recovery to be collected. “

 


 

CITY OF RICHMOND

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Richmond City Auditor / Inspector General Umesh Dalal never fails to amaze me with what he’ll find next, in this particular department. This time, the City’s taxpayers are footing the tab for the agency’s botched handling of computers intended for use in the Independent Living Program, according to a short audit. Just amazing. Previous audits of this agency may be found here.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported a few weeks ago that, “The city’s Social Services department has been on the receiving end of a series of unflattering reports and investigations in recent months, many of them focused on problems in the Child Protective Services unit that may have compromised the safety of children.”

 


 

FLORIDA

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Florida’s Auditor General recently released Information Technology Operational Audit, which looked at DCF’s “Safe Families Network” to see who had access to personal information contained in the computer system. The findings:

In addition to the 18 user accounts with inappropriate access privileges, 3 user accounts belonged to former employees who retained access privileges after their dates of termination. The access privileges for 1 of the 3 former employees had been deactivated as of the date of our review, but had remained active for a period of 10 days after the termination date. The access privileges of the 2 remaining former employees remained active as of the date of our review, or 241 and 309 days after their termination dates. The FSFN access privileges of the 3 former employees were not used after their dates of termination.

Access to incompatible and inappropriate functions increase the risk that misappropriation of assets and erroneous manipulation of data may occur.

Also of interest, an April audit report on the Domestic Violence Program, Telework Program, and Selected Administrative Activities. It seems that DCF is not monitoring the “Coalition” that is supposed to be handling this kind of work:

The Department’s contracts with the Coalition were for $29.2 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year and $30.3 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The Department’s monitoring of the Coalition contracts consisted of a desk review for the 2011-12 fiscal year and an on-site review for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Our evaluation of the Department’s monitoring efforts disclosed that the Department did not maintain sufficient documentation supporting the conclusions made regarding Coalition compliance with the contract terms and applicable State and Federal requirements. Specifically:

The Department could not provide documentation supporting the conclusions of the desk review performed for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Our audit tests disclosed that the desk review was evidenced by a single form indicating there were no concerns with the performance or compliance of the Coalition; however, no documentation identifying the documents reviewed or the specific evaluation criteria utilized to assess the Coalition’s performance was available. We also noted that Department policies and procedures did not require monitors to maintain documentation supporting desk review conclusions.

The Department did not always document the performance of planned on-site monitoring procedures or that monitoring efforts were complete and included all elements required by State law.

 


 

CANADA – NORTHWEST TERRITORY

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Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly – 2014, Child and Family Services – Department of Health and Social Services and Health and Social Services Authorities.

“The Department has not established an adequate accountability framework for the delivery of child and family services, which the Minister of Health and Social Services has authorized the Health and Social Services authorities to assist in delivering. It also has not adequately monitored whether those services are delivered in compliance with the Child and Family Services Act. In addition, the Department has not assessed the financial and human resources required by regional authorities to carry out their responsibilities to children, youth, and families, or developed adequate guidance and tools to support delivery of these services. These are serious shortcomings in the delivery structure for child and family services.”

 


 

IN THE WORKS

The Arizona Capitol Times ran a short blurb on April 25 concerning a pending audit of that state’s “maligned department of Child Protective Services” which will cost taxpayers an estimated $250,000 to perform.

Oh, never mind. The Arizona governor just vetoed the bill.

Another audit is currently underway, and it sounds promising. As the Chicago Tribune puts it in an April 20, 2014, article:

A Chicago nonprofit that has received millions of public dollars to provide foster care and other social services is being investigated by state officials for using taxpayer funds to pay for its founder’s condo, car and other personal expenses, the Tribune has learned.

State funds also were used to subsidize the former nonprofit leader’s expenses related to riverboat casino ATM withdrawals, parking tickets, prescription medication and spa services, according to state officials and records.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has awarded repeated contracts to ABJ since 1998, the article explains, adding that: “The nonprofit has received more than $10 million from DCFS and four other agencies just since 2010, according to state comptroller officials, with most of the money coming from DCFS.”

 


 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Should CPS seize children because their mother is ill?

(Photo: Nick Oza)

(Photo: Nick Oza)

It's now been 421 days since Jessyca and Bradon Peterson lost their three children. Fourteen months since Child Protective Services decided the kids were better off with strangers than with their parents or grandparents.

Two Easters and a Christmas have been missed, and birthdays have passed – a lifetime in a child's eyes.

Now, finally, the Petersons are getting their day in court, that long-awaited chance to counter CPS's claims that they're unfit to care for their children.

The Petersons' attorney, DeeAn Gillespie Strub, says she's appalled at what the Petersons have endured at the hands of CPS, but not surprised.

"They made a bad call and this is CPS's m.o.," said Strub, who has frequently tangled with the agency. "They cannot say 'whoops'. Why? Because they hold all the power and the culture of CPS is 'We are right. We are always right'."

The problem, of course, is that sometimes the state's most woeful agency is wrong and when that happens children suffer.

Officials at CPS and its replacement, Child Safety and Family Services, have declined to comment, citing privacy laws. CPS records lay out the agency's concern that Jessyca was too ill to care for her 7-year-old son and twin 2-year-old daughters, who have developmental delays.

What they don't explain is why the best option was to rip the children away from their parents.

The Petersons' ordeal began on March 20, 2013, after paramedics were called to their Chandler house. Jessyca, home alone with the children, was blacking out and knew she needed help. Knowing that paramedics were on their way, she says she put the twins in their room, closing the gate on the doorway.

She crashed after paramedics arrived and records show they treated her for a drug overdose. But her doctor's notes indicate that Jessyca was hypoglycemic, having not eaten all day. The drugs in her system had been prescribed to treat her fibromyalgia.

CPS was called after paramedics expressed concern that the house was "filthy", the girls were confined and a large number of painkillers were observed. It was the second time CPS had been called to check on the children. Two months earlier, CPS investigated but found no reason to get involved.

This time, however, CPS deemed the children "in immediate danger" due to Jessyca's illness and took them away, splitting them into two foster homes. A judge granted the state temporary custody after CPS reported that the girls were "caged" by a mother who couldn't provide for their basic needs and that there were "no identified family members willing or able to care for the children."

Never mind the parents' explanation to CPS that the gate was used sparingly, to keep the girls safe. Or the grandfather's plea that the children be placed with him.

Never mind the letter from Jessyca's doctor, explaining that her medication is monitored and that she is "fully capable of taking care of her children."

Jessyca and Bradon told me last fall that they did everything CPS asked to get their children back. They took parenting classes and underwent psychiatric evaluations with a CPS-selected psychologist.

Read more at: Should CPS seize children because their mother is ill?:

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Arizona – Abused children continue to die

Arizona - Abused children continue to dieArizona’s child-welfare system delivers recurring disasters. Only the child victims change.

Are you fed up yet?

If so, what are you prepared to do about it?

Arizona’s most vulnerable children are often doomed or reabused by the overwhelmed, inept agency you fund.

This is not news.

Two years ago, the sound of children singing drifted up from the lobby as Gov. Jan Brewer’s Child Safety Task Force met at the Capitol. They weren’t the voices of ghosts. But they could have been.

The task force was formed after the beating deaths of children whose lives might have been saved if Arizona’s Child Protective Services lived up to its name.

The voices came from a choir of children at the state’s 2011 Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, providing a poignant reminder to that task force of what childhood is supposed to be about.

Last week, the governor greeted another choir of children at this year’s tree-lighting fest.

Last week, Brewer also named a new group of high-level individuals to scrutinize Cps.

Meet the new problem, same as the old problem.

The governor’s new Child Advocate Response Examination – CARE – team is supposed to figure out why 6,500 reports to the child-abuse hot line were ignored after being marked “NI” for “not investigated.” CARE is one of three groups investigating the mass shelving of calls for help. The state departments of Economic Security and Public Safety are also looking into this.

Suggestions being put forth now as bold responses – such as state Sen. David Bradley’s idea for a separate Department of Youth Services – are not new.

More than a decade ago, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley proposed changes that included splitting Cps from the behemoth DES. Romley renewed that call last week.

Bradley’s a Democrat. Romley’s a Republican. This is not a partisan issue.

All of Arizona weeps for children whose short, battered lives become the stuff of headlines. We all have a stake in fixing this.

Efforts to reform Cps go back many years, but there is a recurring and ineffective pattern to our collective calls for action. First comes the crisis, then the public outrage, then the task force. Before long, the public shrugs and looks away. It is, after all, a daunting and ugly problem.

Arizona is in the outrage phase now. But Cps is not going to get better until the people of Arizona stay focused and demand real change. We need sustained – not sporadic – efforts.

It’s worth mentioning that some caseworkers put their hearts and minds into a heartbreaking, mind-bending job.

But it is critical to remember that somebody at DES developed and enabled a process that was used to set aside thousands of hotline reports before caseworkers ever saw them.

This happened at the same time the state was encouraging people to get involved and report suspected abuse and neglect.

It happened as CPS workers staggered under caseloads that are 77 percent above the state’s own standards.

It happened as Arizona experienced a larger increase in the number of children removed from their homes than any other state. There are more than 15,000 children in foster care in Arizona.

It happened as children died. The latest state Child Fatality Review found 47 percent of the 33 children who died of neglect or abuse in Arizona last year were known to child-welfare agencies in Arizona or in other states.

It happened as CPS carried a backlog of 10,000 cases that have had no attention for at least 60 days.

It happened as funding for services for children and families were cut by the Legislature.

It happened as three sisters were held captive in filthy conditions in a Tucson house that their mother and her husband turned into a living hell.

Are you fed up yet? If so, what are you prepared to do about it?

tucsoncitizen.com

A version of this column originally appeared in www.lukesarmy.com.