The director of Arizona's child welfare system says thousands of child abuse hotline reports have not been investigated in recent years, and it's unknown if those children are still at risk of abuse.
CBS 5 News contacted Gov. Jan Brewer to see what was being done to correct the error. The governor's office sent this statement:
"Governor Brewer insists that there must be accountability for this inexcusable failure at CPS, but she intends to DPS conduct its independent review before any conclusions are made. Everybody's first priority must be to ensure that each case is investigated and that every child's safety is assured."
The Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter said the chief of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations brought the issue to his attention on Nov. 12.
Carter said 6,000 cases were misclassified as not requiring investigations beginning in 2009. The number of cases rapidly escalated since January as caseloads increased as a new hotline process was put in place.
"What is clear to me here is that determination was made in many instances where it never should have been made," Carter said.
Carter said his office is in the process of reviewing all 6,000 cases. At least 125 cases already have been identified where children subsequently became the subject of child abuse investigations.
He said they've already gone through nearly 3,000 cases and found 1,700 cases that needed further investigation. Of those, they found 10 that needed immediate attention.
Carter told CBS 5 News, the Office of Child Welfare Investigations will participate in combing through the remaining cases - while the Department of Public Safety is being brought in for an independent audit.
"We will have a better sense of where accountability lies, so that we cannot only fix the practice and the protocol, but then to hold whomsoever are responsible for this ... to hold them accountable," he said.
All of these cases came in through the state child abuse hotline and the problem appears to have been the way the calls were being categorized.
These cases came into the system but never made it out to the field officers where the actual investigators would take over.
Carter addressed a state committee at the state Capitol Thursday afternoon where he gave a detailed account of how thousands of Arizona children may have fallen through the cracks.
He told the committee they have a triage system in place where they prioritize higher level cases but other calls were pretty much ignored.
The head of the Child Welfare Investigations Unit said the agency was dealing with budget constrains and a lack of resources.
Arizona's Child Protective Services department has been one of Brewer's major priorities, and Carter says she was livid at the news.
Brewer released the following statement Thursday on the unreported child abuse cases:
"As governor and as a mother, safeguarding Arizona's children has been a top priority of mine. That's why it is not only heartbreaking, but unconscionable to find out that thousands of cases within CPS have gone uninvestigated, potentially involving vulnerable, abused and neglected Arizona children. This is absolutely unacceptable.
"The most urgent priority is to ensure that each one of the children involved in these cases is safe. Every case must be investigated - no exceptions, no excuses. It is not only the right thing, but it is the law.
"I do not want to see the lights off at CPS until this is done.
"I've instructed DES Director Carter to immediately investigate each and every case, and to request that the Department of Public Safety conduct an independent, thorough administrative review of these cases and the process that led to this situation.
"DPS is charged with determining precisely how and why this inexcusable failure occurred. There must be accountability in this matter and I will insist on further reforms to make sure that it cannot happen again."
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, (D-Phoenix) released this statement:
"The magnitude of the failure of CPS, under Director Carter's leadership, is shocking and inexcusable. It is time for him to resign. Reports that about 6,000 complaints of child abuse have not been investigated since 2009 indicate a pattern of negligence that is unacceptable. This needs to be corrected immediately. The Legislature should go into special session now so we can ensure that there is accountability built into CPS processes and that the agency gets the leadership and resources needed to protect Arizona children."
CBS 5 News received this statement from Child Protective Services Oversight Committee member Rep. Debbie McCune Davis (D-Phoenix):
"The CPS system is broken and it is failing children. Perhaps as many as 6,000 cases fell through the cracks because the agency has a policy that allows for some cases to go uninvestigated. Director Carter's assertion that he is managing an agency with limited resources fails to address the fact that CPS has a statutory obligation to investigate all reports of child abuse. Ultimately, he is responsible for the agency's failure, and he should be honest about the fact that a strategy was employed to reduce the number of cases referred to investigators.
"The bottom line is he should have asked the governor for the resources he needed to do the work of protecting Arizona's children. He did not do that, and now he lacks the credibility to lead this agency. Going forward, the governor should appoint a multidisciplinary team led by the Department of Public Safety to investigate this problem. There must be accountability."
Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.
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