CPS oversight panel updated on botched CPS reports

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- A review of more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports has found more than one-sixth of the children were involved in a subsequent case overseen by Arizona's child welfare agency, the Legislature's child protective services oversight committee was told Monday.

Just two weeks into a review by an independent team appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer, 12 law enforcement agencies are now helping check on children the team's workers determine might be at risk, Charles Flanagan, who leads the team, told the committee.

More than 175 Child Protective Services workers are assigned at least part time to the team, which is trying to work through the backlog of ignored cases by the end of January.

A separate Arizona Department of Public Safety investigation is looking at how and why the reports weren't investigated. DPS Director Robert Halliday told the committee that the administrative investigation is growing more complex and he doesn't know when it will be complete.

Halliday did surprise some when he said his report would go directly to the Department of Economic Security and not be made public. DES Director Clarence Carter, whose agency oversees Child Protective Services, then promised to hand it over immediately.

"Within 24 hours of my receipt of the report I will make it available to the committee - in the form in which it was given to us," Carter said.

Brewer's spokesman, Andrew Wilder, later said that it may take much longer to review the DPS report and remove sensitive material.

The state's Child Protective Services agency has been in the spotlight since late last month, when Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter revealed that thousands of cases requiring investigation had instead been closed in recent years.

Five senior CPS workers are on leave as an investigation into who authorized the action is conducted. The agency has declined to name them.

Brewer promised again Monday that people will be held accountable for the lapses, eventually.

"I don't think anyone in the public would want us to go in there and start rolling heads, if you will, because we thought maybe that might be the person," she told reporters at an unrelated event. "You don't convict anybody until you have the records and you have the information."

Flanagan, who normally runs the state' juvenile corrections department, said the review so far has shown that 6,552 reports were not investigated between 2009 and 2013, most in the past two years. Two were also discovered from years earlier, raising questions that there may be other previous cases.

The problems were discovered by the head of a separate investigative team assigned to review criminal child abuse cases. Gregory McKay wrote in a memo to Brewer last month that it appears the illegal closures began in 2009, were suspended, briefly revived in 2010 and then embraced by a new team designed to pre-screen reports to cut case worker overload.

By law, reports must be investigated, so one of the major goals of both the DPS probe and Flanagan's is to determine how the practice began and prevent a recurrence.

"One of the problems when you have a system as large as this is that if you have people with the ability to override policy or law you end up with a situation like this," Flanagan said.

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