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December 15, 2012 permalink
While Arizona CPS reduces services so staff can enjoy Christmas, parents are being denied visits with their children. Even when visits are court ordered.
"They're not being honest": CPS voicemail message pokes holes in agency's public statements
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Few things are colder than keeping kids away from their parents who have a right to see them. That's exactly what appears to be happening in Arizona right now. CPS maintains these cuts aren't really cuts at all and aren't impacting service.
"I miss my family. I miss my family and I miss my baby."
They're the words of a mother doing what she can to get her baby daughter back. She asked 9OYS not to reveal her name fearing retaliation from CPS, the agency she says is being dishonest.
"I'm angry that they talk about being honest, that's a big thing with them. Be honest, be honest, and they're not being honest," she said.
And she has the proof to back up those claims, a voice-mail from her CPS caseworker, left on her phone.
The caseworker says, "Wanted to let you know there's a big agency wide problem with visits, umm all of our contracting agencies are ending their contracts with us."
The caseworker puts the blame on agencies like Aviva, but according to Aviva it's actually CPS who told them and 10 other agencies in Pima County to stop supervised visits.
Back on December 7th, CPS administrators told 9OYS "nothing's changed" when it came to supervised visits. Administrator Deb Harper went as far as saying, "I think there's miscommunication that we're stopping all visitations."
But the voice-mail goes on to say, "So there's going to be no more supervised visitation at all. We're going to have to work it out on our own."
A direct contradiction to what CPS had been telling 9OYS all along.
"They're misleading the public," this mother said. "I don't think any of us should have our visits cut if we're doing what CPS is asking. We should be allowed to spend time with our kids whether it's 2, 4, 6, or 10 hours. We should see our children."
But the CPS contradictions don't end there. This mother is court ordered to see her child three times a week. This is what CPS told 9OYS about that.
"The department is mandated to meet court orders," Harper said.
But the reality is CPS is violating those court orders and the voice-mail proves it once more.
"Starting this Saturday, this will be your only visit starting this week. There's just nothing we can do right now. Hopefully something gets figured out. I'm not sure when, so please be patient."
As Christmas approaches, patience is wearing thin. How can CPS just cut back visits, despite standing court orders. Parents don't understand why CPS says one thing, but does another even in the face of mounting media scrutiny.
"They're above the law," this mother said. "They make the rules and that's not fair."
So for now, her child's toys go unplayed with, a vivid reminder she will be seeing her daughter less. The family reunion they've been working so hard to achieve, delayed.
"The visits for us were huge," she said. "We looked forward to them, and now they're gone and my daughter is the one paying the ultimate price."
9OYS reached out to CPS for the last two days to request an interview. That request was not granted. But they did send us a short response, maintaining CPS will not violate any court orders. They also asked for the name of the woman who came to 9OYS so they could correct the problem. That woman did not want us to pass on her name. She says she just doesn't trust CPS, so 9OYS didn't.
Addendum: After a public outcry administrators retreat. But keep in mind that public statements rarely match private actions for this kind of agency.
CPS will restore child services cut due to 'misunderstanding'
Arizona child-welfare administrators plan to restore most services to children and parents in the coming weeks, saying an internal "misunderstanding" led them to inadvertently cut visitation and other standard programs.
New budget-tightening policies implemented over the past couple of months threatened to keep children in foster care longer and make it harder to reunite families, and they led agencies to lay off dozens of workers. The abrupt policy changes also delayed or reduced supervised visitation, parenting training, transportation and other services, in violation of court orders.
The state Department of Economic Security last week denied reports from service providers and its own internal memos obtained by The Arizona Republic that blamed program reductions on a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall within Child Protective Services.
But on Friday, following a Republic story about the service cuts, DES Director Clarence Carter told a group of contractors and child-welfare advocates that he has reversed the policies and that most services will resume as soon as the changes are explained to CPS managers and new referrals are sent to providers, perhaps by next week.
Carter acknowledged that a "malfunction" led middle managers to go too far in reducing services, those attending the meeting said. Some agencies hadn't received referrals for family mentors, known as parent aides, in months.
"Unfortunately, a misunderstanding within the DES resulted in staff and providers believing that adjustments below historic norms were required," DES administrators said in a letter to service providers and a statement sent to The Republic. "That was not DES' intent and is not accurate."
Non-profit agency administrators came to the Friday meeting armed with budget numbers and details about laid-off workers and waiting lists of families they were unable to serve whose children were in foster care. They said they were encouraged that Carter immediately acknowledged the problem and vowed to fix it.
"We were very glad for them to just come out and say that they made a mistake ... and they're going to correct it," said Emily Jenkins, president and CEO of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, which represents child-welfare and behavioral-health agencies.
CPS had drastically reduced the use of parent aides, who had been supervising most weekly visits between parents and children removed from their homes because of suspected abuse or neglect. Other reductions included services that help ease reunification when children move back home and those intended to keep children in their homes.
Regular visits are fundamental to reuniting families, and child-welfare experts said the service reductions and delays threatened to lengthen the time children stay in foster care and jeopardize their ability to return home or become legally available for adoption. The reductions also led some providers to lay off an estimated 40 to 50 workers.
"It's unfortunate that some people have already been laid off. And it's going to take some time to turn it around," Jenkins said.
The DES is projecting a $35 million budget shortfall at CPS, about $27 million of it because a growing number of foster children are being cared for in groups homes and crisis shelters, which costs the state up to four times as much as placing them with foster families.
Officials said last week that they will use $20 million in federal block-grant funding to fill part of the gap.
The state has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of children in foster care this past year -- hitting a record 14,200 last month -- as worker caseloads continue to be two and three times state standards.
Service providers said they had notified the DES months ago that referrals for parent aides were outpacing the budget, as state officials tried to serve hundreds of parents who had been waiting for services ordered by judges in dependency court as conditions to reunite with their children. In Maricopa County, those referrals stopped abruptly in October, and in Pima County, they were cut by about two-thirds.
A new CPS policy required most new cases to go through the state-funded Families FIRST substance-abuse program so parents could begin treatment before other services were put in place. Now, parents will again be allowed to simultaneously start treatment and receive parent-aide services, including supervised visitation.
"What I'm hoping is that it meets the needs ... so we hear less from parents saying, 'I haven't seen my kids in several months,' " said Ron Carpio, a vice president for TERROS, which runs Families FIRST in Maricopa County. "They have a right to see their kids."
Anna Keating, a court-appointed special advocate who advises Juvenile Court judges about what foster children need and how they're doing, said her daughter was a parent aide until she was laid off last week.
"Looking at this from a purely financial perspective, I just can't imagine how something like this could happen, that you'd have such gross miscommunication within an organization," said Keating, a former Honeywell financial officer. "That's the part that I find astonishing."
Beyond the internal-communication problems, child-welfare advocates say more focus should be placed on child-abuse prevention and early intervention. Arizona is bucking a national trend of placing fewer children in foster care, and a shortage of foster homes here means more children will live in group homes and shelters.
Carter has requested an additional $50 million for the coming fiscal year, primarily for 200 new caseworkers and foster care and adoption funding to keep pace with projected growth.
"A 4-year-old should not be spending his second Christmas in a shelter because there's nowhere else for him to go," Jenkins said.
Source: Arizona Republic