I often use this column space to criticize some of the nonsense that comes through the Arizona Legislature, but last week, I was extremely impressed with a bill that was passed with very little arguments.
Arizona lawmakers came together last week to pass a bill that calls for an additional $4.4 million in funding for the state’s Child Protective Services. This was the first bill of the 2013 legislative session, and along with funding, it also calls for the hiring of an additional 50 new employees for CPS.
I applaud Gov. Jan Brewer for pushing this initiative because I have seen first hand how under-manned and under-funded CPS is. As I have said in the past, my husband and I adopted two children after a family tragedy. Because there was no plan in place for where these two girls would be placed, by law, they became a ward of the state, which means foster care.
Fortunately, we were their foster care parents as we went through the lengthy process to adopt them. However, the process probably could have been a lot less stressful if CPS had their act together. While there were numerous issues, and some too lengthy to explain, I will give one example that really stood out to us.
In order to go through the process to adopt a child, it should be no surprise that the prospective parents have to go through a background check. While we had no problem whatsoever with that, we did have a problem when they lost copies of our fingerprints not once, but twice. It just points to a sloppy system that is supposed to be handling the care of some of our most vulnerable children.
The girls we adopted were living in Cochise County, while my husband and I lived in Pima County at the time. We had to start the process dealing only with Cochise County officials. We later transferred to Pima County services. I will say the difference between our caseworker in Pima County and our caseworkers in Cochise County were night and day. I hope under the new legislation, CPS will also be looking at how counties like Cochise need extra attention.
After signing the new bill, Gov. Brewer said, “Seventeen days ago in my State of the State address, I urged the Legislature to act quickly and pass an emergency bill funding 50 new full-time employees within Child Protective Services. This bill is not a cure-all for the child-safety problem in our state, but it will bring immediate help to the children who need it most. I intend to continue working closely with the Legislature and DES to strengthen Arizona’s child-safety system.”
While the latest legislation is a major sign of good things to come, another thing I didn’t know was work that was being done quietly throughout 2012. Last week, the Department of Economic Services (DES) released its Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report and highlighted improvements made within CPS regarding staff recruitment and retention, Child Abuse Hotline management and foster home recruitment efforts.
These improvements include a new centralized and streamlined hiring process. In 2012, CPS hired and trained 459 new caseworkers. The agency also partnered with Arizona State University to evaluate and update its training opportunities for new and ongoing staff and supervisors.
Based on the agency’s appropriation, CPS is currently full-staffed. Gov. Brewer’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 calls for an additional 150 CPS caseworkers and support staff, as well as added funding for adoption services, foster care, emergency placement and other resources for Arizona children at-risk.
Having an evaluation system in place to create more accountability, adding the additional funding, and proposing future plans to continue the work can only improve this vital service.