Child Abuse: Task Force Looks at Reducing Fatalities

November 15, 2011

The Arizona Child Safety Task Force will meet at the state capitol this morning.  The Governor created the 19-member panel after more than a dozen kids died at the hands or their parents or guardians over the past year. 

It will examine ways to improve how police and Child Protective Services investigate abuse allegations.   But as KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson reports, it will take more than a task force to prevent kids from dying due to abuse and neglect.

Kris Jacober is a foster parent who plans on attending the first meeting of the Arizona Child Safety Task Force. 

KRIS JACOBER  “I hope as they do their work they remember what we’re taking about are kids.  Kids--who don’t have a voice.”

Kids like the 18-month old boy Jacober and her husband are caring for.  Child Protective Services took him from his mother ten months ago because of drug abuse and neglect.

KRIS JACOBER  “I can talk to you—you know what I’m saying-- about that child’s life.  But that child couldn’t talk to you about his own life.  And if he could, you’d be horrified.”

As president of the Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents, Jacober says she’s hopeful the task force and Child Protective Services or C-P-S can help reduce the recent spate of child deaths.  Clarence Carter is the director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which oversees C-P-S.

CLARENCE CARTER  “This whole notion of our hair on fire and just throwing more resources at this is not the way to honor those children.”

Carter says that’s why his agency took a methodical, strategic and focused look at making the system more efficient and more effective.  He points to the amount of time it takes from when a call about abuse is received until its resolved—which can range from five to seven months.

CLARENCE CARTER  “As we have had a group of our best workers completely unpack that process and take the redundancies and the parts of it that don’t have value, we’ve been able to shrink that to 40 days.” 

To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider this.  The C-P-S child abuse hotline received more than 34-thousand reports from April 2010 to March 2011. Child Protective Services removed almost eight-thousand kids from their homes and placed them in foster care.   Karin Kline spent 26-years as a C-P-S case worker, case manager and administrator. 

KARIN KLINE “Something has had to have happened before the state has the authority to knock on anybody’s door.  So there has to be an allegation that a child has been abused or neglected or very likely will be if nobody steps in and does something.”

And that’s the problem.  The majority of Arziona kids who died from abuse last year had never been reported to C-P-S.  2010 data from the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program shows of the 64 children who died from abuse or neglect, 18 had previous contact with C-P-S, and five were the subject of open C-P-S cases.   

As her 18-month old foster child plays, Kris Jacober says reducing the number of kids who die from abuse or neglect is a much bigger issue than a task force alone can solve.

KRIS JACOBER “This is a community problem, this is not 15 people or however many around a table that’s going to trickle down something that’s going to change the world.  This is neighbors, friends—reporting kids who are abused, reporting kids who are neglected.”

Jacober hopes the Child Safety Task Force will keep in mind that whatever it does will impact the little boy in her home positively or negatively.   The panel’s final recommendations are due by the end of the year.  For KJZZ, I’m Paul Atkinson


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