Head of CPS says his department has a 'toxic' environment

PHOENIX - Child Protective Services is under the microscope, and now the head of the department knows his employees are feeling the pain.

Clarence Carter, the head of the Arizona Department of Economic Security which oversees CPS, sent out an email after dozens of his staffers anonymously voiced their complaints, a memo said.

Carter wrote in the open letter that the environment is "toxic".

And this letter was written as the CPS caseload keeps going up.

On Wednesday, workers took custody of a 5-year-old near Camelback Road and 43rd Avenue. Phoenix Police say a young girl was left to roam a parking lot alone for more than two hours until the complex manager spotted her.

CPS recently drew fire after the death of 6-year-old Jacob Gibson earlier this month. Investigators say the boy was beaten to death by his parents. Allegations of abuse were reported to CPS before he died, but the child wasn't removed from the home.

Talking about the anonymous complaints from his own team, Carter says things need to change or "it will continue to eat away at our core".

The letter included the following:

What I was most stricken by (and which frankly left me feeling sad and angry) was that 60 of my co-workers felt the only way they could address legitimate workplace issues was to go outside anonymously. Whether it is a perception or reality, there seems to be a belief within our enterprise that legitimate issues of workplace conditions cannot be aired without fear of reprisal. That is a sickness.

First, let me apologize for the conditions that led folks to believe they had to take that route. Please know that I heard your issues and value your desire to raise them. The only result you will experience for displaying such courage is that I will be more diligent about addressing the issues that gave rise to your expression.

I have said since I got here that while DES has many great and dedicated public servants, the operating construct of the agency is much like a bunker. We are very tightly wound and geared to keep our heads down in a belief that such behavior will minimize incoming danger. One of the many negative manifestations of this bunker mentality is that we drive legitimate discourse underground. It is not fashionable to tell the Emperor he/she has no clothes.

One of my hopes and aspirations for the future of DES is that we foster a culture that enables, embraces and encourages the free and complete flow of all that is necessary to do this difficult work. That will allow not only for innovation, but for constructive criticism and the potential to redress grievances. I can't abide by a culture that does not work this way.

Our current environment is toxic. Left unchecked it will continue to eat away at our core until we are incapacitated. Know that I will be forceful and aggressive to this end, and hold the management and supervisory structure accountable for meeting this objective. But I need each of you to hear this clearly: I cannot accomplish this objective by myself. Although I sit in the biggest chair in this place, I am but one voice in this massive bureaucracy. This must be the work of each of us.

The urgency of getting this message out did not allow time to give you a specific plan of action. Please know that is in the works. Shortly, you will receive another communication which will provide some interim measures. They will help us open the lines of communication, enable a more free flow of all our processes, practices and operations, and permit us to swiftly begin to change the culture of DES to one that is more conducive to all of us doing our best work.

Until then, I say this specifically to our CPS workers who felt the desperate need to have their voice heard and in general to the remainder of DES:

I know the past few years have been devastating in terms of the care and nurturing of our labor force. As we try to rebound from that devastation, it is important for you to know that I value you, and I treasure your work. The residents of Arizona stand on your very capable shoulders. You have my commitment to work tirelessly, to support you better, and create a culture worthy of your dedication to socially and economically challenged Arizonans.

Clarence H. Carter

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