State senators voted unanimously this morning to scrap what has been Child Protective Services and replace it with an entirely new state agency.
Today's move comes after years of complaints about how the agency has been handling complaints of abuse and neglect, but it took the almost accidental discovery that 6,500 complaints had never been investigated at all to build sufficient political pressure to do more than tinker with the agency.
A separate measure to add close to $63 million in funding for the new agency drew a single dissent from Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City. She objected to the lack of benchmarks to ensure the funding is properly spent.
The House is expected to vote on the plan later today.
Most of the plan closely follows the recommendations of a special panel put together by Gov. Jan Brewer to study the agency and see if there are better alternatives.
On the surface, the most significant change is creation of the Cabinet-level Department of Child Safety. Charles Flanagan, put in last year by Brewer to run what until now has been a division of the much larger Department of Economic Security, is expected to be named by Brewer as permanent head of the agency.
But the plan also contains funding for additional caseworkers and staff as well as an entirely new system of oversight designed to ensure that there is no way in the future that staffers could decide to simply mark complaints as not to be investigated.
As of July 1 the agency should have a budget of close to $830 million. Five years ago, after some money-saving budget cuts, CPS was operating on less than $450 million.
Not everyone who voted for the plan was enthusiastic about the package.
Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said the plan should have included more accountability to the public. And he said it's likely some of that money will be wasted.
Ward said she fears that the agency will not be sufficiently focused on those children in imminent danger. She said the laws permit caseworkers to remove children from homes based on some "esoteric feelings'' a child may be neglected.
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, who has had his own run-ins with CPS over his adopted and foster children, warned colleagues about the power they have given the agency. He said caseworkers make parents “jump through hoops” because they do not like the way children are being raised.
“Abuse of due process is rampant within CPS,” he said. “And noting in this bill is going to change that.”