Neglected child abuse cases: What does it mean for AZ kids?

Neglected child abuse cases: What does it mean for AZ kids?

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PHOENIX -

Arizona's Child Protective Services is under fire after a new report shows thousands of suspected child abuse cases were never investigated.

State welfare leaders say about 6,000 cases stemming from calls made to child abuse hotlines were overlooked because they were misclassified.  Workers apparently designated the cases with N.I. -- meaning "not investigated" to help manage a heavy workload.

The director of the Department of Economic Security faced some tough questions about how something like this could happen.

"We are doing right now a thorough review of not only the cases but the process that unfolded here and we will be able to have a better understanding of not only how it happened, but how it will not happen going forward," said Clarence Carter.

Gov. Jan Brewer released a statement in response to this report, saying "DPS is charged with determining precisely how and why this inexcusable failure occurred.  There must be accountability in this matter and I will insist on further reforms to make sure it cannot happen again."

The fact that CPS is letting kids slip through the cracks is not surprising to many people who work with parents of abused and neglected children.

Right now, there are more than 20,000 CPS cases that are open -- that still need to be investigated.  So the 6,000 reports of abuse or neglect that were deemed unnecessary to investigate -- that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The bottom line is there are tens of thousands of kids in this state who may be in danger and are not being protected by CPS.

"What it means is we don't know how many kids are in danger right now and that is the very scariest part," said Dana Wolfe Naimark, CEO of Children's Action Alliance.  "We don't know who's who, we don't know who they are until all those cases are looked up."

The Children's Action Alliance is an advocacy group for vulnerable kids.  The CEO says there are currently more than 20,000 CPS reports that need to be investigated.  And last year, nearly 70 kids in Arizona died because of abuse or neglect.

"About half of those children had been known to CPS they either had an open case that was still ongoing or had a prior report," said Wolfe Naimark.

But those are cases where investigations had been started.  Now CPS has to go back and look into the 6,000 reports of abuse that were essentially ignored.

"It happens more than you know it happens all the time," said Joseph Ramiro-Shanahan, an attorney who has called the CPS hotline to report a case of neglect.

"Animal feces in the home, holes in the wall, smell of cat urine.. the house was filthy.. kids had lice," he said.  "I had been in the home as part of my investigation.  I called the hotline and was shocked at what I saw.  They took it as an information only report."

Ramiro-Shanahan filed a petition in court, and two weeks later, a judge, and eventually CPS decided to remove the kids from the home. He says CPS caseworkers typically have more than three times as many cases as they should have.  Add to that -- an increase in the past four years in the number of reports of abuse that need to be investigated.

"Funding is just not there.  These folks need better tools, need better technology, better equipment to manage the high caseloads.  They need to hire more people train them better to bring the caseloads down," he said.

Ramiro-Shanahan says also contributing to the problem -- a high turnover at CPS.  A lot of caseworkers leaving because of the stress and the workload is just too much.

CPS is also having trouble recruiting.  The average starting salary for a new caseworker is $34,000 a year and the position requires a college degree.

Follow this story: 6,000 Arizona child abuse reports not investigated

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