PHOENIX - A scathing memo to Gov. Jan Brewer from the Phoenix police detective overseeing criminal investigations at Arizona's Child Protective Services department laid bare the latest crisis at the agency.
The Nov. 12 memo from Gregory McKay about his discovery of thousands of uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports concluded that the implication is "clearly one of failed child safety and protection multiplied by 5,000."
The memo got the attention McKay intended: Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter revealed the problems the next week, five senior CPS workers were put on leave, and Brewer created an outside team to ensure that what has grown to more than 6,550 uninvestigated cases are appropriately handled.
McKay had joined Carter to help brief reporters on his findings, but the memo he wrote reveals for the first time the depth of his concern and his demand for urgent action. The memo was first revealed by The Arizona Republic and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
"This needs to stop IMMEDIATELY," McKay wrote in a conclusion titled "Solution/Immediate Action Required."
Meanwhile Wednesday, the new team Brewer appointed reported that more than 1,200 of the cases were now assigned to social workers. The group dubbed the "CARE" team also verified that more than 550 reports from the past four years had now received responses, and nearly 200 children have been visited by police or social workers.
The team created 10 days ago is reassessing all the reports that were previously reviewed by CPS. Police in Flagstaff, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix are sending officers to see some of the children identified in the reports.
The problem of closing cases after a brief paper review began in 2009, McKay said last month, as a way to cut out reports that were overburdening caseworkers. The practice was abandoned the following year, revived in 2011 and then embraced by a new team assigned to triage incoming cases last year. The vast majority of the reports closed without investigations have come in the past 20 months.
Brewer's spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said the memo sparked immediate action once it reached her office.
"As soon as we had it, the governor's office acted immediately to see that the practice ... was ceased, that we gathered and analyzed all facts and put a plan in place to ensure the safety of each child," Wilder said. "That was done that day -- it began right then."
CPS caseworkers completed an initial review of the 6,554 closed cases last week, finding about 3,600 that require a full investigation.
The new team of outsiders named by Brewer to oversee those investigations is re-reviewing all the work done by CPS after discovering that some of the workers involved had previously been on the team that initially closed the reports. The team, led by Juvenile Corrections Director Charles Flanagan, is also receiving help from local police agencies that are assisting CPS in checking out reports where the child may still in danger.