Since GOP governor Jan Brewer took office in 2009, at least 6,000 reported cases of child abuse and neglect in the state of Arizona have been closed without an investigation. In November of 2013 alone, a reported 3,000 cases were closed by the state’s Child Protective Services Agency (CPS) with no investigation.
Arizona child abuse toll has risen under GOP governor Jan Brewer.
Gov. Brewer’s huge budget cuts reduced the AZ budget by $2.2 billion dollars in 2010. Further cuts, in addition to Brewer’s CPS overhaul in 2011, created a $35 million budget shortfall for the state’s CPS agency.
Even as thousands of cases of child abuse have been ignored by CPS, the state has seen a rise in a the number of deaths and near deaths, caused by child abuse. In 2011, for example, a six-year-old boy was beaten to death by his parents. The child’s parents had been reported to CPS at least 5 times prior to his death. Of the state’s 23 child abuse deaths in 2011, more than one-fifth of families had been reported to CPS.
In 2012, the overall number of child deaths also increased in the state. A total of 854 children under the age of 18 died in AZ. A review of the deaths by the state’s Department of Health estimates that 34% , or almost 300 child deaths, could have been prevented. The report cites cases of unsafe living and sleeping conditions, as well as cases where the parents or caretakers were high or drunk at the time of the child’s death.
Jan Brewer’s CPS overhaul created agency wide problems.
In 2011, Gov. Brewer made an overhaul of the state’s CPS agency a top priority. On top of budget cuts, Brewer devised a plan to streamline the CPS abuse hotline, which handles all reports of child abuse or neglect. As part of her overhaul, Brewer also appointed a new director to oversee the agency, Clarence Carter.
Carter was the Director of African American Affairs for the Republican National Committee and also was employed by the state of Virginia as Commissioner of Social Services. Carter made it a priority to redirect funding from the state’s child abuse services. In an interview with the Associated Press in December 2012, Carter said that:
“For a long time in this agency the child protective services unit was allowed to spend whatever it needed to spend, and the rest of agency would make it up.”
He told the press that instead of spending whatever it needs, CPS “Must begin living within it’s means.”
Brewer’s policies, as carried out by Carter, didn’t just result in the agency ignoring thousands of complaints of child abuse and neglect. An internal memo from 2012 showed that the budget cuts and change in priorities also affected service delivery of cases, including parent visitation, parent aide services and transportation costs. In many cases the agency failed to follow through on court ordered visitations and delayed parent and child services for months.
Carter falsely claimed that the state’s spending on children in foster care exceeded every other state in the US. His claim of excessive, out of control spending led to more cuts in the amount of money the state spends on children in foster care. These cuts resulted in the state’s failure to meet many of its obligations to parents and children involved in the foster care system.
Thousands of confidential CPS documents turned up in an alley in Phoenix.
On November 26, the Arizona Daily Star reported that the state police had launched an investigation into how CPS handled the thousands of closed cases. On the same day, thousands of pages of documents from CPS files were found in an alley, in Phoenix. The documents contained case numbers, names, social security numbers, addresses and other personal information, along with highly sensitive material, such as psychiatric evaluations, caseworker notes and even photos. Whether these documents were purposely dumped in an effort to hinder the investigation, is not yet known.
Child advocates across the state are calling for Carter’s resignation.
In light of the issues, a growing number of private and public officials are calling on Carter to resign. It’s inevitable that some children will fall through cracks in the system, no matter how well-managed and well-funded the system is. That the state should fail to protect even one or two children is bad enough, but when thousands of children are put at risk due to poor management and huge budget cuts, that amounts to gross negligence.
Among those calling for Carter’s resignation is Dana Naimark, president of the Children’s Action Alliance. On November 22, Naimark wrote a letter to Gov. Brewer,
“Since this practice of leaving reports uninvestigated has continued over several years from different units within the Department of Economic Security, it’s clear it was not one or two rogue employees, but a systemic policy.”
She goes on to say that,
“Director Clarence Carter is responsible for this lapse and we urge you to ask for his resignation.”