Suffer the Children

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

Berns declined New Times' requests for an interview.

Indeed, despite the good cheer at the top, there's some indication that CPS continues to be plagued by poor morale and caseworker burnout at the bottom.

Joe Forkan
Representative Laura Knaperek gives Janet Napolitano an "F" — the increased number of kids in foster care, she says, is not acceptable.
Emily Piraino
Representative Laura Knaperek gives Janet Napolitano an "F" — the increased number of kids in foster care, she says, is not acceptable.

Last week, Brenda Truesdell, a CPS supervisor with the Kingman district for five years, resigned from the agency. The next day, she came to Phoenix to testify in a closed Senate hearing room in front of several legislators.

Truesdell described a scenario where everyone is overworked except a top-heavy management team, where training is ineffective, where even the most inexperienced caseworkers must handle complex cases, just because there isn't anyone else.

A tall, thin woman with military crispness, Truesdell described a box of nearly 200 cases that's sat in her office for months. She couldn't get overtime approved to enter the information into the agency's archaic computer system.

If a new complaint comes in about one of the cases stuck in the box, CPS would never know it, Truesdell explains. The data from the earlier report, after all, simply hasn't been logged into the computer.

"I'm no longer willing to work for an organization that puts money above the safety of children," she told the legislators. "I'm not going to do it."

Truesdell explained that Napolitano's much-vaunted Core training program puts new caseworkers in the classroom for a six-week course. But after taking the class herself, she understood why new workers often seemed so ill-prepared.

There was no test at the end of the course to make sure workers "got" it. And since training is run by the central office instead of district staff, supervisors like Truesdell get no information on what the students have mastered and where they still need more help.

"It costs $20,000 to $25,000 to send them through [six] weeks of Core, when you add up hotels and food and reimbursement for gas," Truesdell told Senator Karen Johnson, whose mouth nearly hit the table. "When I think of the staff I could have with the amount of money spent on Core . . ."

Throughout more than two hours of a question-and-answer session, Truesdell painted a bleak picture of some of the same programs that Mickens praised to New Times the week before.

Take the in-home services division. Truesdell says it's been so understaffed in Kingman that caseworkers from other units have gotten calls from families asking why no one ever followed up with them. Other cases, Truesdell says, were closed in just a few weeks — hardly enough time to monitor a family's progress. Even worse, she named CPS offices in several cities that have yet to set up an in-home unit.

(CPS spokeswoman Liz Barker Alvarez denies this, saying that every office has in-home workers, if not a full unit. But she admits that rural areas pose special challenges.)

Overall, Truesdell's testimony painted a chilling contrast to the glowing reports from CPS administrators and people outside the system.

Napolitano promised to reform the agency to make children safe. Her deputy, Haener, says she's convinced she's done that.

The foundation has been laid for real progress, he writes, "and is starting to yield results. . . . Building on those successes will take time, continued investment, and steadfast commitment on the part of CPS and all our partners."

But after four years at CPS, the statistics still reveal cause for concern. And Brenda Truesdell, for one, isn't buying the governor's rosy picture.

Truesdell told the legislators that she'd previously worked as a caseworker in Indiana.

"I didn't think a system could be any worse than Indiana when I left Indiana," she told the legislators. "Arizona is worse. Arizona is much worse."

Next week: An examination of the Napolitano administration's efforts on behalf of children in three areas: juvenile corrections, environmental protections for kids, and early intervention for the developmentally disabled.

Week three: The Legacy.

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