DCS audit paints picture of children being 'unnecessarily' removed from homes

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(Source: Saney Ponjud via 123 RF) (Source: Saney Ponjud via 123 RF)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

[ EDITOR'S NOTE: Since our story aired, viewers have reached out to me, stating what we highlighted in that audit, happened to them. I reached out to the AZ Department of Child Safety Thursday morning, asking: What should parents who feel their children were "unnecessarily removed" from their family and home do, and who should they contact?

This is the response I received from them: “The first priority of a DCS investigation is the child’s safety, and we’re strategically improving those tools.  We’re increasing the use of objective criteria for risk and safety checklists. There is greater staff training and decisions will be much more informed by data and best practices.  DCS encourages family reunification based on the best interest of the child.”  -Doug Nick, DCS Spokesman

If anyone has a concern about their case, they should contact the DCS Family Advocate. The contact information can be found at this link: https://dcs.az.gov/blocks/complaint-or-disagreement

For issues or concerns with a DCS Case please contact the DCS Family Advocate at:
1-877-527-0765 or (602) 364-0777

For Resource Family Issues
Please Contact the Foster Care and Adoptive Family Liaison at (877) KIDS-NEED-U

#CBS5Answers ]

A scathing report shows the agency that's supposed to be keeping Arizona's children safe has a lot of work to do, especially when it comes to removing children from their homes.

[RELATED: Audit rips Arizona's Department of Child Safety]

The number of children taken out of potentially unsafe homes skyrocketed in the last four years by a margin of 4,200 cases. While more reports of child abuse are coming in to DCS, that audit also blames caseworkers with "poor documentation" and "subjective decision making."

From the moment DCS takes a case of possible child abuse, keeping the family intact is a priority. That is if the child is safe.

"The traumatic effect on that child is long-term and you cannot repair that," said Rep. Kelly Townsend, a member of the state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

The state's auditor general paints a pessimistic picture in that audit of how many children are being "unnecessarily" taken out of their homes.

"We're missing the most vulnerable, and they're getting hurt," Townsend said.

Townsend was most shocked by some of the findings, particularly those about documentation.
 
"Caseworkers and supervisors fail to list names of children," which the audit says can lead to confusion about who the victim is. It also says "language and terminology in case reports varies from caseworker to caseworker."

"[I am] very concerned about the direction of the department," Townsend said. "The problems that are there are the problems that I could see and had a hard doing anything about."

DCS accepted each one of the audit's findings. 

"We are certainly recognizing those areas that need to be addressed and we are aggressively addressing them to the best we possibly can," said DCS spokesman Doug Nick.

But one of the most egregious parts of the audit, Townsend says, is the agency handles meetings between parents, children, caseworkers and DCS supervisors. 

According to the report, "caseworkers and supervisors come to meetings with families with their decision already made about whether to remove a child." 

"I think that's the most maddening part about this report because I was going to bat for those employees," Townsend send.

Nick said DCS plans to heed every one of the audit's recommendations.

"It's robust," Nick said. "It has very aggressive, in some cases, goals and time frames that we are on track, in many cases, to meet."

Townsend did credit DCS Director Greg McKay with streamlining the abuse phone line which has helped speed up the time in which the department responds to a case.

You can read the full report at www.azauditor.gov.

Copyright 2015 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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