PHOENIX - A prominent child advocacy group in Arizona is calling for Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter to resign after Child Protective Services admitted 6,000 child abuse and neglect cases went ignored for years.
Children's Action Alliance, a watchdog group that helps craft policies for DES and helps connect people to the resources that help families, believes the breakdown goes straight to the top.
"Folks who made the decision to have these non-investigated cases didn't do that in isolation, they got approval higher up and so where the buck stops, the buck stops with Director Carter," said Beth Rosenberg, the Director of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice for Children's Action Alliance.
The agency says more case workers are needed, but the state can't wait for the money or training time, instead it's calling on more state and national experts to figure out how to fix a systemic problem with the resources available right now so that no more children fall through the cracks.
Until that happens, Rosenberg says some of the people who are trained to call the CPS hotline such as doctors and teachers question the reliability of that reporting service.
One educator who has used the reporting system before is Dr. Barbara Veltri. As a professor at NAU she teaches new teachers and says the first lesson each semester is to watch for red flags among students and the requirement by law to report it.
"Hygiene is a concern, if a child falls asleep on their desk, in my own career I tapped a child on the back and he winced," Dr. Veltri said.
She is sure teachers made some of those 6,000 calls to CPS and is baffled at how so many reports could have gone ignored; pointing out that in a school setting, if a kid gets hurt, for example, everything is documented, parents are notified immediately and the issue is followed up. She suggests a liaison from schools to CPS and the governor's office to do that same kind of follow up after reports are made.
ABC15 asked to talk to Clarence Carter Friday, DES responded by email:
"Director Carter is not available to conduct media interviews today. In an effort to be open, transparent and informative, he made himself publicly available yesterday. He and his staff are focused solely on reviewing cases to ensure child safety."
ABC15 also drove by DES headquarters Friday night to see if anyone was in fact working after hours reviewing the 6,000 cases; some lights were on in the building.
DES did send ABC15 an email explaining more about the SWAT squad employees who were assigned to review those cases in the first place after tips had been called in to the CPS hotline.
Who are they?
SWAT Team members are mostly CPS Specialist IV positions who have experience in child welfare investigations and have held supervisory positions.
How many members are on the team?
Currently there are 42 staff belonging to the SWAT unit statewide including the Quality Assurance/Mentoring Unit.
How were they selected?
SWAT staff were selected based on their experience in child welfare conducting investigations, supervision experience and knowledge of social work practices.
What is the average experience/employment each member has served with CPS or as a caseworker? Most SWAT members have been with the Division for more than five years.
Who supervises them?
SWAT members are CPS Specialist IV series position overseen by a supervisor. Each supervisor's unit is managed by an Assistant Program Manager in each CPS region in the state. SWAT is then overseen by a Program Manager.
How many cases do screen each day?
This varies based on the number of cases presented, but on average SWAT reviews approximately 70-100 cases per day.
How long is a case reviewed before a final decision is made on whether the case is investigated?
Each case is quite different and can take varying lengths of time to review.