Child Protective Service struggling to cope with rising abuse reports

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Child Protective Service struggling to cope with rising abuse reports

CREATED Mar 21, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

PHOENIX (KGUN9-TV) - The state agency that is supposed to protect children from abuse and neglect is struggling to live up to it's life saving mission.
The latest report from Arizona Child Protective Services says it is hard-pressed to cope with a soaring rate of abuse and neglect reports.

Children depend on parents to protect them and when they fail, the responsibility falls to the state.

Just a sample from CPS latest report shows children, and the agency under stress.

From April 1st through September 30th, neglect reports are up 20 percent.  The number of children entering foster care is up 10 percent.  The number of children forced to stay in crisis shelters longer than three weeks is up 60 percent.

Penelope Jacks of Children's Actions Alliance says, "It's hard to know what could be more urgent than this need."
Interviewed in Tucson, Jacks says economic pressure on families is only part of the problem.

"I think it's a dollars question.  That we have eroded the CPS budget over a long time.  There were huge budget cuts to CPS back in 2009 and those have not been restored.  Caseworkers have larger case loads than ever because the numbers are growing and the number of vacancies so they're underpaid, under trained and overworked."

CPS challenges include short staffs, a tough economy, reduced behavioral health services for children and parents, and a shortage of foster homes for children in their teens.

Governor Jan Brewer wants to put about 42 million dollars into the new CPS budget.  Her spokesperson says Democrats support that but lawmakers in the Governor's own party don't.

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked Governor's spokesman Matt Benson: "Is it as simple as budgetary support or do you have to make some system changes?" 

Benson: "Well, it's both.  It's not so simple as just throwing money at the problem.  CPS is putting in place a number of different internal process changes, trying to make their investigations more efficient and effective, trying to clear caseload backlogs."

A CPS spokesperson told us she would be interviewed for this report, but postponed the interview twice citing an undefined emergency. 

About 45 minutes before our 6pm newscast her office e-mailed a news release and made a follow up phone call citing what it described as successes and challenges including a nearly nine percent rise in adoptions and a 13 percent increase in calls to the Child Abuse hotline.