Ariz. Gov. Brewer orders new child welfare inquiry

December 2, 2013 - 6:04 PM
Arizona Child Abuse

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, left, announces her efforts during a news conference to create an independent team to clear more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect reports that were ignored, and to oversee the operations of Child Protective Services agency, as Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, right, listens in at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Phoenix. The number of cases found to have been illegally closed by a special team at Child Protective Services has climbed to 6,550. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer defended the director of her social services agency Monday while angrily saying that those responsible for illegally closing more than 6,500 uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports will be held accountable.

Brewer's comments came as she announced a second outside review of the state's child welfare agency to ensure Child Protective Services properly investigates the reports closed in the past four years.

Most of the closures happened in the past 20 months as a team assigned to prescreen tips phoned into the state's child abuse hotline tried to manage a soaring workload in field offices that do the investigations.

Brewer appointed the head of the state's juvenile corrections department to lead the review, which also will look at the agency's practices and procedures to prevent a repeat of the scandal that has roiled CPS. The team also includes child advocates, two state lawmakers, a retired police chief and a Maricopa County prosecutor.

CPS investigators discovered the practice of closing uninvestigated cases in August, and it was made public Nov. 21. Brewer also has assigned state police to investigate who was responsible for deciding to close the cases, which require investigation under state law.

Brewer, a Republican, again resisted calls from some Democrats and child welfare advocates for her to fire Clarence Carter, who leads CPS' parent agency, the Department of Economic Security. She said he had done "a fine job."

"I believe, personally, that there has been a break in the command, and we will get to the bottom of it, and somebody — people — will be held accountable," Brewer said. "We're not going to tolerate this. I think we need a complete, full investigation, we need to know where all the bodies are buried, if you will, no pun intended. But we're not going to start attacking people until we know that we've got a basis for doing that."

Carter declined to answer questions Monday at a news conference announcing the outside review.

State Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, who was appointed to the independent team, said an outside review is required.

"It is absolutely critical that we have independent oversight, and I believe the team our governor has assembled is what is needed," Rep. Kate Brophy McGee said. "It will bring transparency to an agency that has been cloaked in secrecy and integrity to a process that has appeared corrupt."

The problems at the state's child welfare agency aren't new, and Brewer has made reforming it a priority in the past several years. Last January, Brewer personally took credit in her State of the State address for "overhauling" the hotline system so urgent calls received priority.

On Monday, she again promised reforms.

"We know it's never going to be perfect — we don't live in a perfect world — but we're going to do everything that we can possibly do to get to the bottom of these 6,000 uninvestigated cases," she said. "We're going to have eyes on each and every one of them, and we're going to enact reforms so these things don't happen ever again in the state of Arizona."

Carter has created a plan to respond to all the cases, including completing an initial review by Monday. He promised that all cases warranting full investigation will be assigned to investigators by the end of next month. He's assigned more than 200 CPS supervisors and program managers to the work, employees who don't currently handle cases.