By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — State lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to four measures designed to revamp how Child Protective Services operates and open the agency to more public scrutiny.
The bills, approved by the House with only limited dissent, include:
• Opening up the records of investigations when a child is murdered or nearly killed because of abuse or neglect (HB 2454);
• Requiring open court hearings in cases where the state wants to take away someone’s child unless there is good reason to close them (2453);
• Altering how CPS deals with allegations of criminal conduct and works with law enforcement and prosecutors (2455);
• Giving the public access to the disciplinary records of all state employees, including CPS (2159).
All four bills now go to Gov. Janet Napolitano. An aide to the governor would not comment on whether she will sign them. But Rep. Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, one of the architects of the package, pointed out that the measures all had bipartisan support.
Napolitano already has signed two other related bills, one which mandates that CPS workers inform police when a child is believed to be missing and at risk of harm, and the other forcing CPS employees to promptly obtain copies of existing court orders on child custody and abide by them.
The bills are a direct outgrowth of the deaths of three children whose safety was supposed to be being protected, or at least monitored, by CPS. “We can never bring them back,’’ said Rep. Jonathan Paton, R- Tucson, the other prime sponsor of the package. “But we can try to bring back the public’s faith in their government by making it as open, as transparent and as accountable to the people of this state as we can.’’
Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said he agreed with the goal of demanding more accountability of the agency. But he said that, by itself, will not solve the problem unless the state provides more money for the agency to hire and train “the best and the brightest’’ to work with families and children.
Adams said the state has given more money in the past to CPS, including an infusion of cash five years ago to hire more caseworkers. But the deaths in Tucson still occurred. “Yes, CPS needs more resources,’’ he said. “But absent reforms, those resources will not get the job done.’’
In one of those Tucson cases, CPS gave two children to their father, apparently unaware that there was a court order not only denying him custody but prohibiting him from having contact. The children ended up dead and the father has been charged.
In another case, a mother under CPS investigation disappeared with her child.
A sheriff’s deputy came into contact with the woman and the child, asked her some questions about the boy’s injury but was told he had fallen into some cactus. The deputy, unaware CPS was looking for them, left. The boy later turned up dead.
The Daily Dispatch
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