Suffer the Children

Governor Napolitano made CPS reform a top priority. But it's been a tough four years

And Wexler's not willing to let Napolitano off the hook that easily anyway. After all, he notes, there are still more than 10,000 kids in foster care. And CPS defends its actions in 2003, even if the agency's now changing course.

"Until people are ready to say out loud, 'What we did in 2003 was flat wrong, and we have to reverse course,'" he says, "this isn't going to get any better."

Joe Forkan

Wexler may be too harsh. But it's clear that keeping kids safe is much more complicated than Napolitano initially suggested.

Some foster parents may need as much intervention and monitoring as some birth parents. And under Napolitano, that's actually happened less frequently than under Hull — occasionally, with disastrous results.

Patrick Traufler Jr. was born just nine months before Robin Scoins' son C.Q. Like C.Q., he was taken from the hospital and immediately placed into foster care.

But Patrick really did have drugs in his system, court records show. And rather than ultimately finding an adoptive family, he died before he was a year old.

CPS had placed Patrick with Angela Monroy, a young Phoenix mother. Monroy wasn't just raising two kids of her own, she also had another foster child — another boy who'd been born to a drug-addicted mother, says Brad Astrowsky, who handled the case as a Maricopa County prosecutor. (The case is still pending, but Astrowsky has left the office for private practice.)

Monroy's husband worked the night shift, Astrowsky says. And that left Angela Monroy as virtually the sole caregiver for four very young children.

"It wasn't as if Ms. Monroy was an evil person who set out to kill the child," Astrowsky says. "She was a young mother in over her head, who started out with good intentions, but was allowed to be in over her head by the state."

After Patrick died, investigators found that her other foster child, too, had suffered abuse. Prosecutors charged Angela Monroy with shaking and smothering Patrick to death — and also with fracturing his foster brother's forearm.

It was a horrible ending, made even worse by the fact that no one could argue that Patrick Traufler Jr. should have stayed with his biological parents. His mother couldn't even manage to successfully sue the county. (She filed suit, but it was thrown out after her lawyers failed to hit their deadlines, records show.) Court records also reveal that the baby's presumed father, Patrick Traufler Sr., proved not to be the biological dad.

It would be tempting to conclude that these cases are tough, and leave it at that. But Astrowsky believes it exemplifies a more systemic problem.

He believes the agency must remove children when they're in danger; he doesn't fall into the camp of those who would always support birth parents.

But by not paying better attention to Patrick's situation in foster care, he says, CPS messed up.

The timing may have been a factor. After all, little Patrick's death came six weeks into Napolitano's term as governor. He was placed in the Monroys' house in the midst of the frenzy of removals, driven by the command to remove kids first and ask questions later.

During the six-month period that includes Napolitano's first three months in office and Patrick's placement with the Monroys, the number of children removed from their homes grew almost 12 percent from the six months before.

The state didn't have enough foster parents, much less caseworkers to supervise them. And the number of caseworkers, naturally, didn't grow 12 percent in this period. Not even close.

And so the caseworker who visited Monroy's home wasn't just young, Astrowsky says. She was an intern.

Even worse, she was an intern who already personally knew the family, Astrowsky says. (Her fiancé was a cousin of Monroy's husband.) That may have given her reason not to question the family's placement, no matter how much stress Angela Monroy was under.

The intern disclosed the conflict to her supervisor, Astrowsky says. But the supervisor decided it wasn't a problem.

And two months after he was born, Patrick Traufler Jr. was dead.

In its response to the lawsuit from Patrick's mother, CPS defended its actions as appropriate. Monroy's criminal case is still pending.

But even today, despite a few hundred new positions added to CPS's roster, workers who monitor kids like Patrick hardly have time to do their jobs.

The agency codified its caseload standards in 2005: Investigators, who make the initial determination whether children need to be in foster care, should take no more than 10 new cases a month. "Out of home" case managers, like those supervising Patrick Traufler Jr., are supposed to handle no more than 16.

Even those numbers seem high, but the reality is much, much higher. In June 2006, the most recent month available, the average "out of home" manager handled 25 cases.

And that's actually lower than many months in the recent past. In October 2005, for example, monthly "out of home" caseloads averaged 32.5 cases — double the agency's standard.

"Unless you gave up most of your personal life and worked continuously, you could not keep up," says Alissa Scott, who left the agency after almost four years in 2004. "I was a single parent, dropping my daughter off at a day care at 6:30 a.m., and they'd be waiting at the door when I showed up at night because they were closing."

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