Last week an audit of the new Department of Child Safety’s first year was released. As many expected, it shines light on the many challenges the agency is facing. Reporter Mary Jo Pitzl summarizes the report here.
While the report provides recommendations to address many problems facing the agency, the most pressing issue is the colossal mountain of caseloads faced by employees. From caseworkers to attorneys, the audit strongly recommends hiring more employees or seeking other means to reduce its tremendous backlog. At over 15,000 uninvestigated cases of abuse and neglect and 17,000 children in foster care, it’s going to take many more bodies to turn this around and ensure that children are getting the protection they need.
If we want to keep children safe in Arizona and give them opportunity to thrive, we must make the investment, which is exactly the opposite of what we saw in the budget passed by the governor and GOP leadership. No agency was spared from cuts, even the Department of Child Safety. Instead, the governor insisted on slicing millions from this brand new agency to hand over to corporations.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. The current backlog didn’t come from nowhere -- it came from disinvestment in children and families for the past six years. As Republicans at the legislature cut investment in DCS, education, family assistance, childcare, and hunger programs, cases of abuse and neglect have increased at a rapid pace.
I will continue to advocate for protecting Arizona’s children. We should use some of the projected $250 million surplus this year to hire employees that can reduce the 15,000 case backlog and find safe, permanent homes for the 17,000 children in foster care. I suspect though, that corporate welfare will be higher on the priority list for the governor and Republican leadership, so we will need to stand together and demand they also make families and children a priority in Arizona.