CPS Chief: Agency Tried to Hide Growing Backlog of Cases

The new head of Arizona's Child Protective Services says that the agency had been trying to hide the degree to which caseworkers were failing to keep up with new reports of child abuse and neglect.

Flanagan told the CPS oversight committee Monday that the coding of cases as "not investigated" -- which eventually led to the revelation that about 6,600 claims of abuse and neglect were essentially ignored -- made the backlog of cases look smaller than it really was.

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"Somebody in the agency made the decision -- okay, let's take some of these low-priority cases, let's shove them aside call them 'not investigated' even though it's illegal, and it's not in policy, and we're not going to codify it in policy," Flanagan explained.

it's been revealed in news reports that legislators and the Governor's Office routinely received reports detailing the number of "not investigated" cases, leading some people to speculate that it was no surprise at all.

However, the people looking at these reports apparently didn't really know what "not investigated" meant. Most likely, government officials didn't read "not investigated" as "ignored" -- that part was just made clear in the fall by Office of Child Welfare Investigations chief Greg McKay, who blew the whistle on the practice.

Flanagan suggested Monday that the "not investigated" coding was just a way to hide how far behind the agency was getting on these cases, and to lessen the workload, although he hasn't been able to find out why anyone ever thought that was a good idea.

"Think about this," Flanagan said. "It doesn't make sense to do that."

If CPS truthfully reported the numbers, Flanagan explained, CPS may have gotten more resources to do the job correctly. Instead, they reported a backlog of cases, plus the 6,000-plus "not investigated" cases -- which turned out to be a misleading term.

"Instead, this strange decision-making to try to hide work and lessen the workload in the field caused a problem that snowballed to the point where we had nearly 6,600 [ignored] cases," Flanagan said.

After the cases were discovered, and Flanagan was brought in to oversee a team to process the ignored cases, CPS ended up removing more than 450 children from their homes. Flanagan suggested that most of those kids may have been able to stay with their parents had their cases not been ignored, and had the agency been able to intervene earlier.

There are still investigations into the actions that led to the stockpile of ignored cases, and who's responsible. Meanwhile, now that the problem's more apparent, the Legislature has already dedicated funds to hire more CPS workers, and Governor Brewer has recommended nearly $74 million in new spending for CPS in next year's budget.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley