PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's decision to replace the state's troubled child welfare agency with a Cabinet-level division was met with praise and skepticism Monday.
The move to dissolve Child Protective Services, announced during her annual State of the State address, comes after recent revelations that the agency failed to investigate more than 6,500 reports of abuse and neglect, a scandal that Brewer said "breaks my heart and makes me angry."
Brewer's executive order puts the state's Juvenile Corrections director in charge of the new Child Safety and Family Services Division.
Children's advocacy groups took it as a sign that Brewer is serious about reforming child welfare but said the long-term solution has to include early intervention to prevent child abuse and a larger network of resources. The groups and some Arizona lawmakers had been pressing for the agency to be moved out from beneath the state Department of Economic Security, which her decision did.
"We can't continue business as usual," said Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and chief executive of Children's Action Alliance. "The hard work begins now."
The discovery of the uninvestigated reports came after years of criticism of CPS and problems with understaffing, chronic backlogs and child deaths. Brewer got the Legislature to add 200 new workers last year. And a newly created law enforcement team started screening cases and investigating those involving criminal allegations.
It was the law enforcement team that found the thousands of ignored cases.
Some Arizona lawmakers said they were troubled that Brewer created the division without any input from the Legislature. Sen. Chester Crandall, R-Heber, said the name of the child welfare agency can change but it won't mean much until laws are put in place to govern it and money is set aside to run it.
Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the House minority leader, said Brewer cannot eliminate CPS. He said he would not support the new division until he sees how it operates.
"Quite frankly, her appointee that was heading up CPS is what got us in this mess in the first place," he said. "And now she just did another appointee for what seems like a new entity without any input from us again."
State Juvenile Corrections Director Charles Flanagan, who has been overseeing a special team to investigate problems within CPS, was tapped as the new division's director. The latest tally from the team shows that more than 3,000 children connected to the reports of abuse and neglect now have been seen by social workers or police. Nearly all the cases that were ignored from 2009 through November have been assigned to investigators.
Kathy McLaughlin, executive director of the Prescott-based Arizona Child and Family Advocacy Network, said the new division should be more manageable and more accountable. Flanagan will report directly to Brewer. "I have every faith that the governor chose the right person," she said.
Brewer said she will call on the Legislature to work with her to codify the new division. She said child safety must be the priority and become embedded in the fabric of the division.
"Enough with the uninvestigated reports of abuse and neglect," Brewer said. "Enough with the lack of transparency. And enough with the excuses."