Welfare That Doesn't Work

Governor Symington has spoken of helping needy kids and improving the welfare system. His welfare agency, the Department of Economic Security, is famous for astonishing incompetence and children who die.

"I'm frustrated," Knaperak says.
So are many DES workers. One employee, who recently quit in disgust, says, "Everybody in the agency knows what the problems are, so when you have somebody saying, 'Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, we're great, we love each other, we're really doing a good job,' it causes a lot of problems for people in the agency because they know better."

In September 1994, Henry Greer and Odessa Greer, ages 5 and 3, were found dead in a manhole near their west Phoenix home.

Days later, it was revealed that Child Protective Services had been warned six times in three years about the children's safety.

That same month, 3-month-old Robert Pakan died after he was left for three hours--on an Arizona summer afternoon--in a car parked at the home of his state-appointed foster family.

Two months before these children died, DES released a study performed by the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Management and Administration at the University of Southern Maine. In a press release accompanying the report, DES administrators praised themselves for protecting the safety of most children who enter the state's system.

And the administrators were technically correct. Most children in their jurisdiction hadn't been abused. But an awful lot had.

The study revealed that 30 percent of the reports of abuse in state foster-care homes were never even investigated.

Of the 4,152 cases reviewed in the study, 18 percent were returned to caseworkers because of immediate safety concerns.

Only half of the case files contained adequate documentation.
Just 38 percent of the children had met with their caseworker in the past month.

And 43 children were living in foster homes or other facilities where investigation had previously validated allegations of abuse or neglect.

By all authoritative accounts, the Child Protective Services division of DES continues to be poorly managed and poorly funded.

The Administration for Children, Youth and Families, which includes Child Protective Services, has seen four assistant directors and five program administrators in the past five years.

And John Foreman, presiding judge of the juvenile division of Maricopa County Superior Court, says the state's welfare agency has been held in contempt of court at least twice in the past 60 days for failing to follow the state's own laws on foster care.

Lawrence Smith is 86, and he has bone cancer. Parkinson's disease makes his right hand shake violently; cataracts cloud his vision. The retired carpenter lives in a trailer park on Phoenix's West Van Buren Street with Audreydea, his wife of 60 years. Audreydea, 74, is afraid to get behind the wheel of a car, so Lawrence drives to the grocery store once a month to stock the refrigerator with TV dinners. Audreydea's diabetes and arthritis make it difficult for her to cook.

The Smiths don't have family in Phoenix. Their son died of cancer two years ago. Audreydea thought she'd lose her mind. Their son had done most everything for them.

Their only income is $769 a month from social security. They can't afford new shoes. The Smiths' trailer is neat, but it's not so clean.

"I used to be an immaculate person, but I can't do those things no more," Audreydea says.

Three months ago, the Smiths put their names on a waiting list to receive meals through DES' home-based community services program. It could be another nine months before they get those meals.

The Smiths are not deadbeats. All their lives, they've helped others in need. Now they need help, and they have nowhere to turn but to the state.

Ironically, if the Smiths don't get the services they've requested, they will probably end up in a nursing home--at a much greater cost to taxpayers.

An average year of home-based services costs about $1,500. A nursing home averages $3,500 a month.

At any given time, there is a waiting list of about 1,000 people for home-based services, says Anne Lindeman, executive director of the Governor's Advisory Council on Aging. Many die or go to nursing homes before they get off the waiting list.

Somehow, Audreydea Smith remains optimistic. "I just take a day at a time anymore," she says.

Smith's hopes for DES help appear to be unrealistic. A review of services that DES provides to children, the elderly and the developmentally disabled reveals striking, heartrending inadequacies.

In its budget-cutting zeal, the Symington administration is hacking at programs that should be maintained or even expanded--if only because they will save the government money in the long run.

Earlier this year, DES administrators were ordered to keep their 1997 budget request at the same dollar amount--$396 million--as the previous year, without adjusting for population increases or demographics.

Carol Kamin, executive director of the Children's Action Alliance, labels that type of freeze criminal--and counterproductive.

"The budget is a values document," she says. "It tells us what we value and what's important. And in our state, for the past number of years, the budget has not valued children."

In the area of child welfare, severe cuts have been proposed for the Family Preservations Service, a highly successful program that offers intensive, in-home services to families whose children are at risk of foster-care placement because of abuse or neglect. The family-preservation budget will be cut in half.

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