I can’t imagine being a Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker. But I can imagine why most of those men and women went into those jobs: an idealistic view that their work could make a difference in children’s lives, maybe save some kids from horrible fates, maybe find ways to change a dysfunctional family into a loving one.
We know that the turnover nationally in those workers is high, in large part because of the very horrors they face each day. Here in Arizona, though, we know that there’s another factor in caseworker burnout, in turning idealistic employees into cynical ex-employees: government indifference.
The state’s given a lot of lip service to helping CPS, with Gov. Jan Brewer even getting some additional funding for more caseworkers. But even with that new money, staff turnover is at 30 percent, which means a constant churn of new employees taking over old cases, additional training costs, and inexperienced eyes on new cases.
The state’s turnover is considerably above the national average for caseworkers, and one very troubling statistic helps explain this: 77 percent.
Our caseworkers have a load 77 percent higher than the national standard for caseworkers.
Here’s an even greater outrage: As the number of cases coming into CPS rose dramatically over the last four years, the governor and Legislature actually cut that agency’s budget.
So more cases with less money. We’re surprised that we have the most recent fiasco involving 6,000 uninvestigated cases? Please.
Sure, there are plenty of Republicans who have the same old response: “Just throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it.”
OK, but when the problem grows exponentially — as the number of cases coming into CPS did over the last few years — it doesn’t make sense to solve the problem by cutting the funding.
But with our legislators — and even with the Department of Economic Services head Clarence Carter, who oversees CPS — cutting the funding was a reality that CPS had to deal with.
Four years ago, the Legislature cut funding, eliminated 200 caseworker positions just as the case loads rose so much, with a 32 percent increase in abuse reports and a 40 percent increase in out-of-home care for kids.
The 200 caseworkers cut actually left CPS 400 workers short of the national standard.
Which, of course, meant more work for the remaining workers. More stress. More conflict. More worry, and the accompanying increase in turnover.
Oh, and add to the caseworkers’ sense of helplessness: The governor and Republican legislators also cut funding for family services that caseworkers could access to help families in distress.
But Republicans did one thing: They established an oversight committee for CPS, tasked with coming up with recommendations by Nov. 12 ... of 2012. One problem though: Republican leaders Andy Tobin and Andy Biggs didn’t even staff the committee until December of 2012.
And we’re surprised with the current fiasco?
Money doesn’t come close to solving problems as intractable, seemingly as the neglect and abuse some parents inflict on their children. Ultimately, no matter the number of caseworkers, abusive parents will continue to hurt their kids. That’s a reality.
But when the amount of abuse increases and our government cuts funding to help those abused, isn’t that government only ensuring the abuse will continue?
It’s time for Gov. Brewer and the Republican leaders in our Legislature to stop the “penny wise and pound foolish” behavior they’ve engaged in with Child Protective Services. We know what will happen if they don’t.
• Mike McClellan is an East Valley resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.