A committee tasked with identifying and fixing problems in Arizona's Child Protective Services had their first hearing Thursday afternoon, almost a year after their initial report was due on Gov. Brewer's desk.
The Child Protective Services Oversight Committee was formed in 2012 after some alarming reports were released about child abuse statistics and the number of children struggling to be accepted into a foster home however, house and senate leaders did not appoint members to the committee until after the governor's initial deadline had passed.
"The work we have to do is very important," State Representative Debbie McCune-Davis said. "I just wish we started earlier."
McCune-Davis is one of two Democratic legislators who sit on the committee co-chaired by Republicans, Representative Kate Brophy McGee and State Senator Nancy Barto.
The first hearing on Thursday was preliminary but took three and a half hours. Committee members were introduced to an overview of Child Protective Services and it's many roles. However, the program's flaws were also brought to the forefront within the first few minutes of the hearing.
"We need to know that there's accountability," Sen. Barto said. "That, if there are mistakes made, people are held accountable."
Over the past year, the state legislature has sunk tens of millions of dollars into the CPS budget hoping more resources would solve the multitude of problems, including the spike in child abuse reports and the increased number of children without a full-time home.
Cherie Klavitter, a former foster child and current foster parent is another member on the oversight committee.
"What needs to be fixed is the length of time these kids are left in limbo," Klavitter said.
The legislature's reallocation of tax dollars attributed for pay raises, more than 200 new hires and a new investigations unit which climbed into action at the beginning of the year.
The investigations unit is tasked with criminal cases of child abuse, working with CPS officers to determine the best course of action but that has its problems as well.
The unit has both police investigators and CPS officers working each case. In many areas, CPS officers are not fully trained when it comes to legal matters and collecting evidence for criminal cases.
"There will be hell to pay," County Attorney Bill Montgomery said at the hearing.
Montgomery said if the officers don't get the same training as police investigators, it could jeopardize a future criminal prosecution.
"We waited too long for this," McCune-Davis said.
An initial report was due on the governor's desk last November. Since the committee wasn't fully formed at the time, members are just now catching up on the backlog of problems and hope to have some solutions for the upcoming legislative session.
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