Monday, October 20, 2003

I Will Gladly Take Responsibility Tuesday

It's a special session lid-lifter (table-setter? plumber's helper?) this week. The governor has called the legislature into a special session to consider Child Protective Services and Corrections, two areas where the loony right believes we shouldn't have to pay for our policies, and maybe there's some ideology we can deploy instead of money? Well, there isn't.

I got a block quote from the editor, in bold in the newspaper version, which you can view here.

Should the line have been, "I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for avoiding it today"? We retort, you decide.

East Valley Tribune, Oct. 19, 2003

Some legislators claim they need more time to “study” Child Protective Services during their regular session. Yeah, right. With all of the other issues competing for attention starting in January, ranging from the budget and economic development to homeowner associations -- and did I mention it’s an election year? -- how much time do you think they’ll devote to an in-depth, scholarly examination of CPS?

Tomorrow’s special session is the time to act. Reasonable people (and, this being the Arizona Legislature, unreasonable people as well) may differ over details, but anybody paying attention knows the general outline. We must improve coordination among agencies in providing services to kids and parents, and between CPS and law enforcement.

We need to increase permanent placements, including both permanent guardianship and adoption. We also need to reduce turnover and hire additional caseworkers and support staff to deal fully and faster with the rapidly-increasing numbers of complaints and children in the system, to provide better investigations, follow-up, and support.

No statute is ever perfect, as legislation is a human approximation. I’ve got no problem with passing stuff now and revising it in the regular session. But there should be no argument that CPS is overwhelmed and underfunded, and the Legislature needs to start fixing those problems right now.

Some financial problems the Legislature has caused CPS would be funny if the results weren’t so tragic. The Legislature made a big deal of funding 104 new CPS positions during the 2002 fiscal year, but didn’t make those new slots part of the ongoing budget in the following years. CPS could hire new caseworkers and support staff for a few months, but afterwards these people were supposed to work for free.

The Legislature also considers funding for new equipment a one-time expenditure, so when setting the following year’s budget, deducts that money from the base -- except they backed out some CPS purchases twice.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to fix its own mistakes.

Many financial problems facing CPS aren’t mistakes, but due to the Legislature’s unwillingness to acknowledge reality. Foster parents’ expenses keep rising, but reimbursement rates were last increased in 1996.

Caseloads are increasing rapidly (investigations increased 11.4 percent in 2002 and then another 6.7 percent in both 2003 and 2004, while the number of children in foster care has shot up 17.6 percent), but funding for caseworker positions hasn’t come close to keeping up.

Right now CPS investigates 86 percent of abuse and neglect reports, referring the remainder to Family Builders social workers (who cannot require cooperation). If the Legislature refuses to act this week, the percentage of reports CPS can investigate will drop to 74 percent.

Some 1,000 children need permanent guardianship, which is more cost-effective than temporary placements, but the Legislature only funded 300 slots -- leaving over 700 kids in the lurch. Help for parents wanting to adopt kids out of the CPS system hasn’t been funded fully, and the Legislature has consistently overestimated federal funds available, so some 600 kids stuck in foster care won’t get adopted and over 1,100 children in adoptive families will lose their services.

The Legislature shouldn’t wait until January to close the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

But the most compelling reason for the Legislature to act now is that their legislative leaders have had years to fix these problems, but they haven’t acted. Further delay only lets them continue to avoid their responsibility. Some so-called leaders remind me of Wimpy from Popeye: “I will gladly take responsibility Tuesday, for a hamburger of avoiding it today.”

Don’t let ‘em wait until Tuesday, or until January, which they hope means "never." The Legislature can act this week, and it must.

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