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Governor Janet Napolitano - Action Plan for Reform of Arizona's Child Protection System

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Governor Janet Napolitano
Action Plan for Reform of Arizona's Child Protection System


September 30, 2003

Dear Fellow Arizonans:

The system for protecting Arizona's children from abuse and neglect, which has been falling apart for years due to poor design and chronic under-funding, is in critical need of repair. Recent tragedies involving drug-endangered infants, families with a history of chronic neglect, and sexual exploitation of minors, underscore the urgency for reform. While no government agency or person can prevent every parent or caretaker from harming his or her child, collectively we can do much better for our children and families.

In January, I created the Advisory Commission on CPS Reform to make recommendations on how Arizona can better carry out its mission of serving the best interests of children, particularly those most in need of protection. I encouraged this Commission to make recommendations that focused on improved outcomes for the safety, permanency and well being of our children. Over the past few months, this Commission, comprised of legislators, representatives from the courts, advocates, community providers, agency directors, and law enforcement has developed recommendations on numerous issues related to child protection and child welfare. In addition, the full Commission formed seven subcommittees that addressed specific issues related to reports and investigations, records and hearings, juvenile justice, overall CPS structure, health care, including behavioral health, education, and CPS and the community. The membership of these groups included many community participants that play key roles in children's lives, such as foster and adoptive parents, advocates, mentors and other volunteers. More than 80 meetings were held and over 260 people from across the state participated. Their work has now been completed and more than 200 recommendations from both the Commission and subcommittees have been submitted. The recommendations cover areas from the prevention of child abuse to adoption and other permanency options. The final Report provides detailed recommendations on how to improve the delivery of services to children and families from all state agencies and the community. I thank them for their hard work and dedication to developing such a detailed and comprehensive set of recommendations. In August, I hired David Berns to be the new Director of the Department of Economic Security, the agency responsible for Child Protective Services. Mr. Berns recently served as the Director of the El Paso County Department of Human Services in Colorado and prior to that as the Director of the Office of Children's Services for Michigan's child welfare agency. He brings to Arizona a national reputation for finding innovative ways to deliver excellent human services in highly cost-effective ways.

Over the past month, I have hosted three public forums to seek more input into the reforms necessary to improve child protection and child welfare. DES Director Berns was also there to listen to community concerns. More than 600 people attended these hearings and 120 offered testimony. My office has also received hundreds of written comments, which Mr. Berns and I have read, offering common sense solutions to improve the CPS system. I have listened to the recommendations and comments and am now pleased to respond with my detailed Action Plan. The Action Plan for Reform of Arizona's Child Protection System sets forth my priorities for immediately addressing the problems within the CPS system and the challenges faced by families in accessing child welfare services. A summary of the Plan, with the required changes and expected time frames, is set forth at pages 1, 2 and 3. The full Action Plan follows and addresses six areas: (1) ensuring a multi-disciplinary response to reports of abuse and neglect; (2) preventing child abuse and neglect; (3) clarifying the mission and role of CPS; (4) ensuring effective delivery of services to children and families; (5) providing adequate support for children and families served by the system as well as those who provide services; and (6) increasing community involvement. Each of these areas is equally important to effective system reform and, therefore, should not be considered as ranked in order of priority. Also, the many detailed recommendations of the Commission and subcommittees will not be lost; wherever possible those ideas will be implemented as part of carrying out this Action Plan.

Change for the simple sake of change is not appropriate. Each change is focused on improved outcomes as to child safety and child and family well being. We must ask as a result of our efforts, are children safer? Are families provided services more effectively and efficiently? Are fewer families in need of assistance from the child protection system? Page 12 of the Action Plan identifies specific indicators of improvement in Arizona's child welfare system, which will serve as a basis for tracking, evaluating and, as appropriate, adjusting our efforts to reform the system. CPS must have sufficient funding to operate the full range of successful and necessary child welfare and protection programs. Arizona's legislature must finally commit to fund what has become a chronically neglected child welfare agency. As I speak, CPS caseworkers lack even the basic tools to do their jobs adequately - car seats for transporting children and cell phones for when they are conducting investigations. But most troubling are the heavy caseloads our CPS caseworkers are facing today. We need to bring these caseloads down so that each child is given the time he or she deserves and so that a child in an unsafe condition is not overlooked. For years CPS has received less funding than was required to meet the needs of Arizona's children. This year was no exception: just to be able to continue providing services at the current levels, CPS requires a supplemental appropriation of $27 million. To bring the caseloads to national standards and ensure that all reports of abuse and neglect are investigated, an additional $8.5 million is needed.

The need for this increase should not come as a surprise. For the past several years, the State Foster Care Review Board has recognized the chronic lack of funding in its annual reports. Earlier this year the Maricopa County Attorney's Office released a report on the CPS system, In Harm's Way, which also illustrates this State's historic lack of funding with more than a dozen of its recommendations requiring a significant funding increase to effectively protect children.

Many of the action steps set forth in the Action Plan will result in immediate improvements to the child protection system. I recognize, however, that not all of the problems are quick fixes. Some steps, particularly those calling for increased funding and changes to existing law, will take some time to complete and require the support of our legislature. One thing is certain - we cannot wait to implement these recommended changes in stages. We must begin to implement all of them now.

Concrete reform of the child protection system must be engineered by those individuals who do the direct, day to day work with the children and families, including CPS case managers and supervisors, law enforcement officials, foster and adoptive families, and community based providers. These critical partners must be an integral part of each action set forth in my Plan. Moreover, as already demonstrated by the tremendous interest Arizonans have shown in this process, our local communities and neighborhoods should also be key players in this effort. I encourage all of you to look for ways you can personally contribute to improving the lives of Arizona's children and families.

Yours very truly,

Governor Janet Napolitano

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