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Fundamental reform needed at CPS, governor

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Laurie Roberts is a columnist for The Arizona Republic.


Fundamental reform needed at CPS, governor

All week long, ever since I heard that Gov. Jan Brewer is taking up the cause of Arizona’s most vulnerable children, I’ve been listening to the voices. They come to me now and then, from down through the years and beyond the grave.

From China Marie Davis. Child Protective Services put her in foster care in 1992 and within 16 days, the signs of abuse were evident. Yet 10 months later, a state child-welfare official reported that she was “thriving”.

China Marie died not long after that. In just 11 months, the 2 year old had endured 15 broken bones. Her death, along with that of another foster child just days later, led to demands for an overhaul of CPS and assurances by the state that change was coming.

“If they’re calling for a redesign of the child-welfare system, we’re already doing it,” CPS spokeswoman Penny Willrich said at the time.

While CPS was redesigning, Henry Greer, age 5, and his 3-year-old sister Odessa were being beaten to death and dumped into a sewer. This, after at least six reports to CPS, including one that Mommy left Henry with her “john” as collateral for drug money. After their bodies were found in 1994, DES Director Linda Blessing vowed that change was coming.

If only Donovan Hendrix could have waited. CPS left the 5 year old with his father and girlfriend despite past abuse and a doctor’s warning that if he died “it will be the result of neglect on the part of CPS.”

He died in April 1996, during Child Abuse Prevention Month, and again CPS vowed to change.

Just not in time to help 20-month-old Liana Sandoval, beaten to death in 2001, wired to a rock and and tossed into a canal. Divers found her body one day after CPS declared it could find no evidence of abuse.

Isaac Loubriel was luckier. CPS was called nine times. Fortunately, after the ninth try for help the caller notified police, who found the 7 year old living in a closet, starved down to 36 pounds.

After Isaac, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano vowed to reform the agency. “We have a true crisis in Child Protective Services in this state,” she said, in 2003. “We’ve had it for a long time.”

So the Legislature, at her urging, piped in money and passed new laws.

And still children slipped silently away. Haley Gray and Natalia Santillan and 3-year-old Angelene Plummer, beaten, burned, raped and murdered in 2005. CPS had been called eight times yet never found a problem. And Brandon Williams and Schala Vera and Ariana and Tyler Payne, left by CPS with a father who’d been denied custody. Ariana’s body was found in a storage tub in 2007. Tyler was never found.

More vows to change led to more reforms and the same old results. This spring, it was Janie Buelna, who might have been saved with a phone call. This summer, it was Jacob Gibson.

Now, Brewer, like so many before her, has vowed to change CPS. Her spokesman, Matt Benson, tells me a yet-to-be-appointed task force will do a “top to bottom review of what’s going on with child welfare.”

Already the calls are coming to resist any change in philosophy, from those who see no need for fundamental reform. I hope Brewer listens not just to the usual CPS players – the ones who have long played a role in running the system as it is, the ones who will tell her that all will be well if only she gives them more money. Money certainly must be a part of any real answer, but it would not have saved Janie or Jacob.

And so I hope this governor will listen to foster parents and grandparents who watch with horror as children are returned to people not fit to call themselves parents. I hope she will listen to prosecutors and hospital workers, so often appalled by what they see.

“Some of these abusers are repeat offenders that continue to have babies returned to their care,” one hospital social worker told me. “We have a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs with many of the CPS-approved discharges to parents, knowing full well that this baby will likely end up in the ER or morgue.”

I hope she will listen to frontline CPS workers who can tell her how little power they really have. “It’s all about protecting parents’ rights,” one worker recently told me, “not protecting the child.”

Most of all, I hope Brewer will listen to the voices of those long-gone children, the ones heard only if you listen with your heart.

Don’t walk away, they would tell her, placated by the easy fix.

The sort we’ve seen so, so many times before.

(Column published Oct. 15, 2011, The Arizona Republic)

Friday, October 14, 2011 at 05:41 PM
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posted by MikeDurham on Oct 14, 2011 at 07:09 PM

Fundamental change is necessary.  For 35 years at least, CPS has never worked in ADES as it should.  Additionally, CPS never focused on the first 48-72 hours of a CPS investigation let alone their own data about reabused children.

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posted by Ed3403 on Oct 14, 2011 at 08:21 PM

The governor is a politician. She’ll put on a big front, do nothing, and act like she’s the savior of the children of Arizona. Politicians are all about the show. There’s precious little of substance. All they care about are their ego trips and power trips. Pardon my cynicism, but I’m not very hopeful.

The kids will continue to get abused and killed because no one really seems to care about them. The proof is in the newspaper almost every day. You’ve written a lot of words, but they’re just words. Have they done any good? Apparently not – yet. Maybe your five-hundredth column will be the charm. I hope it doesn’t take that long. Maybe the governor will do something effective. Even with a tendency toward cynicism, one can always hope.

My father was abusive. He was an alcoholic. He was human. His abuse was mostly verbal, but once in an while, when he got really drunk … I’d get it. But that was OK in those days. Spare the rod and spoil the child … One of my mother’s biggest regrets is that she did nothing to stand up to the abuse. She was abused, too. She was also human. One didn’t stand up to one’s husband in those days. Again, it wasn’t that often, but then again … On balance, my father was a good person, but he had his demons. He learned about abuse the old fashioned way; he was abused. So, I was abused. I didn’t abuse my kids. I had none.

Nothing will change until people change. Nothing will change until we acknowledge that children have rights. If nothing else, all children have the right to a safe, protective, loving and nurturing home.


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posted by theancientone on Oct 14, 2011 at 09:41 PM

Neither Brewer nor the Legislature will do a single thing other than the usual cheap media spots where they express their outrage. It is quite apparent that the Republican Party and many Arizonans really do not care about children other than their own and those probably are in private schools.

You want CPS to do better? Pay them better a whole lot better.  My brother and his wife did this job in another State for 30 years each then retired. They both had to find another job because their retirement checks wouldn’t cover your house payment. I think around $800-900 a month each. for 30 years.

Give them better and stronger tools.  The Legislature needs to make the punishment much much harsher for abusive parents.

Alternatives to return the children to abusive parents. Look at the number of people willing to be foster parents and the number of foster parents over time, say the last 10 years.

I challenge you to go spend a week working with a case worker with a ‘normal’ case load and get back to us.

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posted by PhxWhtMale on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:13 PM

Yeah, government can’t do massive fundemental change and that’s what this requires.

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posted by newguru2u on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:34 PM

 There is a problem in the world and we have forgotten how to raise children, but we also forgotten that the forgotten become the abusers of the future,  Is hard to admit what a terrible place the world is for children, but we are not giving them guns here on a mass scale–yet.

Don’t stop the noise!

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posted by Realistic55 on Oct 15, 2011 at 04:31 AM

if you are convicted of child abuse your tubes should be tied PERIOD.  If you are convicted of child abuse you should be forced to disclose this to your next serious significant other (define serious as more than 2 dates).

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posted by granadaman on Oct 15, 2011 at 08:28 AM

Again and again  and again, reform cries come up.  For decades now.  I believe the question is what reform do we need.  A philosophical or practical reform.  Which is it?

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posted by LeonardH on Oct 15, 2011 at 10:37 AM

 American Family Rights Association has been at the forefront of dealing with the PROBLEM with CPS and the unconstitutional courts of NO Due Process since 2002.

The extremely simple solution is to MAKE CHILD ABUSE A CRIME.

Presently, it is not.

Please see my old editorial What Happens in the FOG

Leonard Henderson, co-founder
American Family Rights
“Until Every Child Comes Home”©
“The Voice of America’s Families”©


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posted by JMR637 on Oct 15, 2011 at 11:46 AM

First off the problem isn’t that CPS isn’t doing enough.  It’s spread too thin by trying to protect way too many children that don’t need it.  According to the NCCPR, AZ has been taking children at rates significantly above the national average for years.  That means worker have been putting child who are not at risk into at risk placements which hurts children and allows workers to get away with saying they are over worked, when if they had been focused on only taking a minimal amount of children, they would be trying to find the most abused children and putting them into the best families, rather than any family that passed a stressed out licensing system.  AZ has been sued several times for taking children without any real cause in the last few years in cases that have caught the media’s attention but apparently not the AZ governor’s.

If AZ wants to fix the problem rewrite the law to require that CPS has to prove that the danger is a high risk not just a high probability that means the risk need to either be very serious (equal to being hospitalized) or frequent and moderately serious (regular bruising in inappropriate places).  As it’s written a child could be taken for little more than being spanked in public for stealing from a store.

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posted by Doughgirl1954 on Oct 15, 2011 at 05:58 PM

Az. mode is take the children and run, without cause. They really don’t know what to do or when, I feel for some of the caseworkers and they do have way to many cases to deal with, but I also know that some of them should not be caseworkers at all, there was one that I know of that had her own children taken away in another state and yet she was a caseworker for the tucson area.  It needs to be overhauled all the way around. Maybe they should try seeing how other states go about doing it. I am a registered foster parent in my state and I have met some very caring case workers who try to keep families together. Wish that Az. was like that if they were I would have gotten my granddaughter.

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posted by cleave on Oct 15, 2011 at 09:14 PM

Clean house and start fresh. If this were a normal work force, the company would send in an efficiency expert and toss out the bad eggs.

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posted by anonymous on Oct 15, 2011 at 09:32 PM

I agree with a previous poster who said CPS is spread too thin by trying to protect way too many children who don’t need it. CPS is inundated with bogus reports. The workers are required to investigate each report with equal thoroughness. These bogus reports take precious time away from the serious reports. And, often times the reports which come in at a lower level of urgency wind up being very serious. Likewise, the reports which come in at the highest level of urgency, often turn out to be nothing. But all of that is not known until the reports are investigated. Workers cannot keep up with the requirements of the job. The desired workload for each worker (investigator) is to receive 2 new reports per week. The reality is 4+ per week.

Investigating a report includes contacting the source, interviewing all children, parents, significant others/step-parents, caregivers, obtaining and reviewing school, medical, behavioral health and criminal history records, CPS history, viewing the home(s) in which the child(ren) live. If there’s also a criminal investigation occurring regarding the CPS allegations, then CPS has to coordinate with law enforcement, which adds new expectations and restrictions. While a CPS worker is gathering the information, they are assessing the safety of the child. It is an impossible task to complete within the 45 days which is expected. If a worker ends up having to remove a child, then it’s a totally different story, they have Court, which includes not only a report to the court outlining the allegations and findings, but a safety and risk assessment and a case plan, all which has to be done days after removal, (in addition to the list I mentioned earlier).

So many people share how CPS negatively impacted their families, or “friend’s” families, by removing kids with no evidence/grounds to do so. People say CPS workers have too much power. They have none. There is an extensive “checks and balances” in place to assist the worker in determining what their action will be. They do not act without the direction and authorization of supervisors and ultimately the Court. For those who believe they, or loved ones have been wronged by CPS, I guarantee that you do not know, or are not sharing the whole story/truth.

Whenever a CPS workers tries to voice the issues with the job, I have seen/heard people respond, “well if you don’t like the job, then don’t do it.” Perhaps if there was support from the community and an attempt to truly understand the job CPS workers are expected to do, CPS would have more success. CPS workers go into potentially dangerous situations everyday, with only their cell phone and wits for protection. They are expected to perform their job in the midst of budget cuts, where services aimed to assist/preserve families, or to assist children’s special needs have been discontinued. They also are expected to perform their job with their income decreased, the ability to work overtime decreased, and their number of co-workers decreased (due to budget cuts, or turnover).

I firmly believe a reform to the agency is needed. It is devastating when a child dies due to abuse and neglect. From the outside, it looks like CPS missed something. Perhaps sometimes they have. Are there bad workers? Of course, just like there’s bad police officers, teachers, attorneys, waiters and doctors. It is human nature to discuss the extreme cases, in order to shock and awe the public. No matter what CPS does, they are (inappropriate term) if they do, (inappropriate term) if they don’t. No one wants a child to die. No child should die at the hands of abuse or neglect. It’s sad the issues with CPS are only discussed when a child dies. What about the THOUSANDS of children CPS has saved? Why hasn’t anyone mentioned that?

You could say CPS itself can be compared to an abused/neglected child. CPS has been deprived of its basic needs to do its job and it’s at risk of not surviving. There have been numerous prior reports outlining CPS’s failings. CPS needs some intervention. CPS needs money to pay for services to help children, families, and to pay to their workers an appropriate wage. CPS also needs the support from the community in which they work. Without all of that, they will not thrive and be the best they can be. And you, the community are continuing to abuse CPS by voting for the government officials who decide to withhold from CPS what it needs to survive.


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posted by BILLMEDVECKY on Oct 16, 2011 at 07:15 AM
Yo Guv; Since you came into Office, CPS and CASA killed the following children who were in their direct care or supervision; Janie Buelna, Jacob Gibson, Kalya Kaplan, Matthew Vandergriff, Michael Ibarra, Daniel Resendiz, Rylee Thomas, Cheree Goard, Johnny Ruiz Cotter, Teigan Peters Brown, Rachel Green, Apollonia Yanix, Schala Vera, George “Calvin” Gonzalas. (Suncanaa website).The REALLY sad part is that nobody in the Media will take a real good look at the comments that folks leave and then actually go out there and CONFRONT anyone in CPS and CASA about their negilgence and incompetance.

10 years from now, CPS and CASA will tell the Media that they are “Fixing” the system, and there will be hundreds more dead kids names I can post for them.  The fox is running the henhouse, and what is even worse, the head fox sits in the Governors chair.

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posted by rockyAZ on Oct 16, 2011 at 08:07 AM

The PROBLEM is more systemic than even anyone in the comments above has gotten down to. There are good, thoughtful comments. But Laurie Roberts believes the REPUBLICANS got screwed by Arizona’s Redistricting Commission. That goes DIRECTLY to this issue/problem. If Arizona Democrats had spent the last five decades dominating the state capitol and public policy, it would be just as bad as it has been with what the Republicans have given us. BUT the people of Arizona have, several times and in several ballot measures, attempted systemic fixes. Prop 106 in 2000 was one of those fixes. It can work, but not if MORONS like Laurie Roberts keep trying to legitimize the unfounded whining by GOP leaders whose only goal is to undermine the commission.

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posted by nccpr on Oct 16, 2011 at 10:42 AM

 CPS does indeed need fundamental reform and a change in philosophy – a change from the philosophy promoted by The Great Regurgitator, Laurie Roberts, the  “take the child and run” philosophy that has guided the agency for nearly a decade.

What Laurie Roberts can’t face up to is that her lazy repetition of the same column more than 40 times helped panic workers into tearing apart far more families – a 70 percent increase in removals during a time when nationwide, they declined by 15 percent.  That’s what overloads workers so they don’t have time to investigate any case properly, so they miss more children in real danger, so more children wind up dead.

And only someone as lazy as Laurie could begin her latest rerun by finally remembering that China Marie Davis died in foster care, and then promptly suggest that even more foster care is the answer.

As for “how little power” CPS workers supposedly have, Roberts could check that by asking for court records concerning how often judges refuse to follow the workers’ recommendations.  But, of course, that would require doing some actual reporting.

Notice how Laurie’s list of people to listen to does not include parents who have lost children to needless foster care (Lazy Laurie prefers to assume every parent fits the stereotype in her own head). No surprise there.

But she doesn’t even include current and former foster children – some of whom were, indeed, rescued from sadists and brutes, others of whom should have been rescued sooner, while still others were taken needlessly from everyone they know and love.  Listen to enough young people who’ve endured foster care and you find out that the system is arbitrary, capricious and cruel – erring in all directions.  But Lazy Laurie doesn’t want anyone to listen to anyone who doesn’t reinforce her own pathetic biases.

I, too, hope that Gov. Brewer will stop listening to “the usual CPS players” – because that means she’ll stop listening to the endless regurgitations of Laurie Roberts, stop doing things the Laurie Roberts way, which is what got Arizona into this mess, and start looking at the states that actually have made children safer – all of which take away proportionately fewer children than Arizona.

Details are on our report on Arizona child welfare here: and about Roberts’ own pathetic record here:

Richard Wexler

Executive Director

National Coalition for Child Protection Reform





Written by dawneworswick

October 17, 2011 at 2:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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