Gov. Janet Napolitano today unveils her plan to reform Arizona’s child welfare system, including hiring more Child Protective Services workers, raising rates for foster parents and defining child safety as the primary role of CPS.
The governor’s blend of legislation, policy changes and directives to state agency heads is intended to launch lawmakers into an Oct. 20 special session on the topic.
Among 40 “action items,” Napolitano also will call for cooperative child abuse investigations between police and CPS, expanding the Healthy Families child abuse prevention program and organizing volunteers from community and religious organizations to help.
Napolitano also is expected to revamp the Family Builders child-abuse program to require more CPS involvement.
Now, low-risk abuse and neglect calls are diverted to local agencies that offer counseling, financial help and other services.
But more than half of the families refuse help, and there is no follow-up.
Under the new Family Builders program, CPS would make the initial visit and families could be re-referred to CPS.
Napolitano aide Tracy Wareing would not say how many additional workers the governor will recommend, or how she plans to fund these and other reforms.
CPS caseloads are well above national standards, and about one-fourth of caseworkers quit each year.
The governor’s plan stems from recommendations of her CPS advisory commission and a series of public hearings she held after the commission released its report in June.
Legislators have their own ideas for reforming CPS, as does Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.
Competing plans and more state budget deficit projections for the coming year could complicate efforts to buoy a system that in recent months has seen at least three children die, twins kept in crib-cages and a starving boy locked for weeks in a closet. All those children had prior or ongoing CPS cases.
The governor announced a special session just weeks after legislators convened a group of lawmakers and local experts to draft CPS reform proposals for the regular session that begins in January. That committee will meet Wednesday to discuss Napolitano’s plan, while another new legislative committee gathers the same day to do the same thing.
Sen. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, has offered several of his own proposals, including giving caseworkers the authority to enter homes, require families to accept services or risk losing custody of their children, and allowing parents to request jury trials if they believe their child has been removed unjustly.
“We need a balanced approach to it,” said Anderson, chairman of the Human Services Committee. “Not just beefing up CPS into a super agency with police powers . . . and more ability to break down the door and take away the kids.”