Gov. Jan Brewer greets her audience from the Arizona Capitol podium, where she gave her State of the State address. She’s flanked by Senate President Andy Biggs, left, and Speaker of the House Andy Tobin. Her speech opened the legislative session.
PHOENIX — Saying she’s had enough excuses, Gov. Jan Brewer moved Monday to strip the trouble-plagued Child Protective Services away from the Department of Economic Security.
The governor signed an executive order that effectively abolishes CPS. Instead, it sets up a separate Division of Child Safety and Family Services. That agency will have its own director who reports to her.
She also named Charles Flanagan, who is heading up a special team reviewing CPS operations, to head that agency.
But Brewer wants lawmakers to go a step further.
“The time has come to statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses exclusively on the safety and well-being of children, and helping families in distress without jeopardizing child safety,” she said.
The announcement follows the embarrassing disclosure last year that 6,500 complaints of abuse and neglect to CPS over four years had been marked “NI,” as in not for investigation. State law requires every complaint be investigated. Of those complaints, 875 were filed in Pima County.
“This is unconscionable,” the governor told lawmakers at her “State of the State” address. “It breaks my heart and makes me angry.”
One thing the move does is remove DES Director Clarence Carter from any role in supervising CPS. He has come under increasing fire by Republican and Democraticc lawmakers who say he has not run CPS in a transparent fashion and has hidden basic problems from them.
There is a general consensus among lawmakers from both parties that something needs to be done.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said House Speaker Andy Tobin.
But not all of them are convinced that the problems will be solved by creating a separate agency.
“I don’t want to just be shuffling the chairs on the deck,” said Senate President Andy Biggs.
He wants a “toes-to-nose” examination of the agency — and not the ones now being conducted by either Flanagan’s Child Advocate Response Evaluation team or the Department of Public Safety. Biggs said only an outsider with special expertise can do the kind of objective analysis necessary about what’s wrong with how Arizona handles child abuse and neglect cases.
Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she has long believed that creating a separate agency is the way to go. But she shares some of the same concerns as Biggs that it needs to be more than a cosmetic change.
“The biggest issue and the root of the culture problems at CPS are the lack of transparency that is embedded in the organization, from reporting of fatalities all the way down to the actual functioning and operation of the agency,” Brophy McGee complained.
Flanagan said after the speech that he does not believe that Brewer’s plan to create an entirely new state agency will result in more bureaucracy.
“It’s actually, I think, going to be a very good step ... because there’ll be a direct link to the Governor’s Office, as opposed to being subsumed within a larger organization,” Flanagan said. “And it’s focused on the recommendations that we’ll be making for change that will improve the situation for the children that we’re protecting.”
And Flanagan, who heads the state Department of Juvenile Corrections, said the governor’s plan won’t be simply a matter of moving the functions from CPS into a new agency. “She intends to change CPS to make it more transparent, to communicate better what it is we’re doing,” Flanagan said.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said Brewer may be on the right track. But he chided her for keeping the plan secret — at least from Democrats — until Monday’s speech.
“The problem that we got ourselves into right now with CPS is we haven’t been working together,” Campbell said.
Campbell made it clear he believes Carter should be gone — and not just from CPS. “I want Clarence Carter in charge of absolutely nothing,” Campbell said.