Saying she's had enough excuses, Gov. Jan Brewer moved Monday to strip the trouble-plagued Child Protective Services away from the Department of Economic Security.
The governor on Monday signed an executive order that effectively abolishes CPS. Instead it sets up a separate Division of Child Safety and Family Services. More to the point, that agency will have its own director who reports directly to her.
She also named Charles Flanagan, who is currently heading up a special team reviewing CPS operations, to head that agency.
But Brewer actually wants lawmakers to go a step farther.
“The time has come to statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses exclusively on the safety and well-being of children, and helping families in distress without jeopardizing child safety,” she said.
The announcement follows the embarrassing disclosure last year that 6,500 complaints of abuse and neglect to CPS over four years had been marked NI, as in not for investigation. State law requires every complaint be investigated.
"This is unconscionable,” the governor told lawmakers. “It breaks my heart and makes me angry.”
One thing the move does is remove DES Director Clarence Carter from any role in supervising CPS. He has come under increasing fire by both Republican and Democrat lawmakers who say he has not run CPS in a transparent fashion and has hidden basic problems from them.
There is a general consensus among lawmakers from both parties that something needs to be done.
“I think it's a great idea,” said House Speaker Andy Tobin, who said he has asked for such a division for some time.
Not all of them are convinced that the problems will be solved by creating a separate agency.
“I don't want to just be shuffling the chairs on the deck,” said Senate President Andy Biggs.
He wants a “toes-to-nose” examination of the agency — and not the ones now being conducted by either Flanagan's Child Advocate Response Evaluation team or the Department of Public Safety. Biggs said only an outsider with special expertise can do the kind of objective analysis necessary about what's wrong with how Arizona handles child abuse and neglect cases.
“There's something fundamentally wrong with the way we're doing business,” he said.
At this point, though, Brewer has yet to bring in any outsider.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she has long believed that creating a separate agency is the way to go, but she shares some of the same concerns as Biggs that it needs to be more than a cosmetic change — and just another bureaucracy that still plays hide-and-seek with information that lawmakers need.
“The biggest issue, and the root of the culture problems at CPS are the lack of transparency that is embedded in the organization, from reporting of fatalities all the way down to the actual functioning and operation of the agency,” Brophy McGee complained. She said the state needs to build a new agency from the ground up “focused on child safety and welfare” and not just transfer the existing problems from one agency to another.
Flanagan said after the speech he does not believe that Brewer's plan to create an entirely new state agency will result in more bureaucracy.
“It's actually, I think, going to be a very good step ... because there'll be a direct link to the governor's office as opposed to being subsumed within a larger organization,” Flanagan said. “And it's focused on the recommendations that we'll be making for change that will improve the situation for the children that we're protecting.”
Flanagan, who currently heads the state Department of Juvenile Corrections, said the governor's plan won't be simply a matter of moving the functions from CPS into a new agency.
“She intends to change CPS to make it more transparent, to communicate better what it is we're doing, and to effect those kinds of systemic change that will prevent something like (cases being marked) ‘N’ from happening again, or the history of things that have happened in DES and CPS over many, many years and many administrations.”
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said Brewer may be on the right track, but he chided her for keeping the plan secret — at least from Democrats — until Monday's speech, saying that's the same kind of secrecy that created problems at CPS in the first place.
“The problem that we got ourselves into right now with CPS is we haven't been working together,” Campbell said.
“We've been stonewalled by Clarence Carter time and time again down here,” he continued. Campbell said as long as some lawmakers are not getting information from the administration — whether Brewer or Carter — problems will persist.
Brewer said nothing during her speech about Carter's future over the rest of DES, which handles things like food stamps and unemployment insurance.
But Campbell made it clear he believes Carter should be gone — and not just from CPS.
“I want Clarence Carter in charge of absolutely nothing,” Campbell said, saying he has no confidence that Carter can do any job at DES.