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Legislature Creates New Department of Child Safety

Arizona's new Department of Child Safety has been formed through a pair of bills passed by the Legislature in a special session, and signed by Governor Jan Brewer.

The outline of the agency proposed last week by Brewer at the cost of $60 million is essentially what was created by legislators, with a few minor changes.

See also:
-Jan Brewer Calls Special Session to Deal With New Department of Child Safety

At one point, Democratic Senator Leah Landrum-Taylor successfully got an extra $3 million in spending approved, which put an additional $1 million toward child-care for the low-income working population, another $1 million for stipends to grandparents who have guardianship or foster care of their grandchildren, and another $1 million for the Families F.I.R.S.T. program, which provides substance-abuse treatment in cases referred by the Department of Child Safety.

That additional funding was then removed before the Senate passed the spending bill.

The total budget of the Department of Child Safety now comes out to nearly $834 million, a little more than 40 percent of which comes from the state's general fund.

Not only is the new agency a response to 6,500 allegations of child neglect and abuse that were essentially ignored, but also as a response to the growing backlog in general. Despite several funding increases to Child Protective Services in recent years, the math just never added up -- there weren't enough caseworkers to keep up with the new cases being added.

About one-third of this new spending on the child-welfare agency is to deal with the backlog. That includes about $4.2 million for overtime, plus $6.2 million more for the hiring of more caseworkers. To address the high turnover rate, $1.7 is proposed for retention bonuses -- a $1,000 check for making it 18 months on the job, and $3,000 for 36 months.

Meanwhile, $5.3 million is proposed for staffing of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which investigates criminal conduct. It was revealed earlier this year that OCWI only has enough staffing to investigate about 17 percent of cases.

The passage of these two bills -- one for the creation of the new agency, and one for the funding -- wasn't really contested that much. Similar to other CPS-funding bills in recent years, a handful of legislators complained that there wasn't enough accountability for the spending, but those legislators end up voting for the bill anyway.

In the end, there was a unanimous vote from all 90 legislators on both bills, with one exception -- Republican Senator Kelli Ward voted against the spending bill, over accountability concerns.

Governor Jan Brewer, who earlier this year had abolished the current CPS parent agency by executive order in anticipation of this special session, wasted no time signing the new bills into law yesterday:

"Certainly, a system that has been broken for decades will take time to repair. Implementing true and lasting reform in any agency - especially one with such a vital mission and vulnerable population - will take time. But for the first time in state history, we are on a clear path to a successful child safety system that will not fail in its mission. I thank the bi-partisan Child Safety Reform Workgroup, the CARE Team, the stakeholders and advocates, the Legislature and everyone who has played a part in this crucial and overdue cause. This is only the beginning, and it will be incumbent upon future governors and legislators to continue our remarkable progress. But today, we can take pride in knowing that we made history - and we made a difference."

For more information on the new powers and duties of this new agency, consult the fact sheet compiled by legislative staff.

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