The Legislature has passed a new series of laws directed at Arizona's child welfare agency that seek to end its highly secretive isolation.
For the first time, Child Protective Services will be required to share with the public details of its investigations when children die or suffer serious injuries from abuse and neglect. Case workers will have to alert the police when they can't find a child and suspect possible danger. They will have to consider the entire criminal histories of parents when they weigh whether a child can be safely left in someone's care. And they will have to follow court orders related to child custody.
While these measures might seem like common sense to outsiders, similar proposals had been fiercely opposed for years by CPS and outside advocates who argued child welfare works best when it's kept out of the public spotlight and "left to the professionals." But it didn't work for two Tucson children who were killed last year, and a third who died from neglect, even after CPS had taken on the responsibility of protecting them.
The dedicated media reporting of those deaths prompted Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, to return to the question of why CPS has been allowed to work in such secrecy for so long. The public has been denied most information about how CPS operates, so we are unable to truly grasp the challenging work and conflicting mandates that burden case workers every day. Also, holding the agency accountable for preventable mistakes has been somewhat arbitrary and certainly haphazard.
Paton became convinced lasting change for CPS requires a consistent exposure to outside attention. He crafted these measures with the help of Rep. Kirk Adams, R-Mesa. Those two became true champions as they convinced their colleagues and Gov. Janet Napolitano that prior CPS reforms have been hampered by the agency's outdated methods of dealing with law enforcement and of sharing with the public.
These laws won't immediately "fix" CPS. But they take the agency in a new direction that should encourage CPS to perform better, and alert the watchdogs in a more timely and coherent fashion if the agency doesn't.