Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Brewer's CPS Surprise

Posted By on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Gov. Jan Brewer hit the usual notes in her final State of the State address yesterday: The federal government is bad, Arizona is on the rebound, the state of the state is strong, yadda, yadda, yadda.

She also made a pitch to get tough on human trafficking, provide more subsidies for the tech biz, help families afford higher education by keeping tuition rates steady for university students, invest in infrastructure such as roads and a collection of business tax cuts.

But the big drama was with the announcement she left out of the copy of the advance speech distributed to the press: A call for CPS to be spun off into its own separate government agency instead of being under the control of the Department of Economic Security.

Brewer announced she had already started the process with an executive order moving CPS away from the current DES administration and creating the cabinet-level Child Safety and Family Services Division, which will be run by Charles Flanagan, the boss of the state’s juvenile-justice program. She’ll need legislative approval to properly attend to all the proper administrative hoo-hah—which she can probably get, given the need for lawmakers to appear to be doing something about CPS after last year’s disturbing revelation that more than 6,000 reports to the agency had gone uninvestigated.

Breaking CPS out as a separate agency is a fine idea as a far as it goes, but keeping kids out of harm’s way in Arizona will require more than a few changes on a flow chart. Working as a CPS caseworker has to be among the worst jobs in the state: The pay ain’t great for a job in that requires you to deal with dysfunctional and volatile family situations that are sometimes overshadowed by the threat of violence. The stakes are huge: Taking a kid away from his or her parents is a heart-wrenching decision, especially when there may not be a great place for the kid to land. And CPS resources have grown much scarcer in recent years, although lawmakers did restore some funding in 2013.

Brewer boasted in her speech that she and the Republican leadership had “reined in government spending by consolidating, eliminating and transforming our operations”—which sounds great until you consider that slimmed-down spending means cuts in state subsidies for daycare and programs such as Healthy Families, which employed social workers who often interceded with families before things spun so far out of control that CPS had to step in.

Those kinds of programs can’t keep every family from sliding over the edge—and frankly, no government program can. But early intervention can make a difference in some cases, if you actually care to help children even after they pass the “preborn” stage.

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