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Official details CPS flaws leaving thousands of cases in limbo

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PHOENIX – Illegal actions by supervisors, overloaded caseworkers and flawed procedures for handling reports of abuse led to thousands of cases going uninvestigated by Child Protective Services, an official told lawmakers Monday.

“We failed these families and these children, and we did it because we wanted to hide workload, and that’s just unacceptable,” said Charles Flanagan, chairman of a task force Gov. Jan Brewer assembled to investigate the cases. “It’s astounding that there was a system so bad, that it had this many opportunities for failure.”

Flanagan, tapped by Brewer to create a new agency to perform CPS’ duties, Child Family and Safety Services, addressed the Child Protective Services Oversight Committee on the reports – about 6,600 in all – that were designated low priority and simply classified as not investigated.

Flanagan said the cases began in 2009 and that no documentation exists showing that they received that designation, something he said suggests illegal actions and systematic failure.

“This was never a codified policy or procedure,” he said. “It was a direct reaction to increased caseload, and opened the door for people to do it in subsequent years to the point where in 2013 we had the largest number of cases, and that wasn’t even a completed fiscal year.”

Flanagan said that ignored calls to CPS’ abuse hotline contributed to the uninvestigated cases. About 3,200 calls come in an average per week, and 26 percent of them received no response from the call center during the period in question.

“That means that somebody calls in – a doctor, a nurse, a teacher – and is on hold so long they can’t stay on any longer and they hang up,” he said. “The average amount of time to deal with those calls was 45 minutes. It’s not the fault of the people doing the job; it’s the fault of the system to create this problem and not be able to address it.”

Flanagan said it was common for CPS employees to do nearly twice as much casework as they were supposed to be overseeing, feeding a high turnover rate that approached 30 percent.

“Our caseworkers and investigators that are newly graduated come out of school full of inspiration and desire to help, and then they come into a work environment where they hardly ever see their supervisor,” he said.

Law enforcement was underutilized as a resource and should have been seen as an essential partner, Flanagan said, adding that the agency he is creating will focus on creating multidisciplinary teams made up of law enforcement, the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Office of Child Welfare Investigations and agency specialists.

“The magic wand is that we have sufficient resources to do the job, that we’re able to work as efficiently as possible by leveraging the resources that are available to us through partners in the community,” he said.