PHOENIX — A team created after officials in Arizona discovered that thousands of abuse and neglect reports weren't investigated announced Thursday that is has closed all the cases and removed nearly 600 children from caregivers.
The announcement marked a major milestone in the revitalization of the state's child welfare efforts.
It came 10 months after the state's Child Protective Services agency was rocked by the discovery that workers had for several years been improperly marking some calls to a hotline as not worthy of being investigated. The scandal at the state's Child Protective Services department surfaced last November and led to the demise of the agency and creation of the Department of Child Safety, which focuses solely on that mission.
The discovery of the 6,600 uninvestigated cases was a major embarrassment for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who had championed efforts to deal with large backlogs at the department. She responded angrily, creating the team that resolved the cases while calling for the creation of a new and much better funded Department of Child Safety to focus solely on child welfare issues.
Brewer called the Legislature into special session in May to create the agency and fund it at levels about $200 million more than was dedicated to child welfare just two years before.
The legislation also added social workers and required greater accountability and transparency for the notoriously secretive agency.
Investigating all the ignored cases was a huge undertaking, and more than 13,000 children were seen by social workers.
"While it is disheartening that this crisis existed at all, I am proud of — and Arizona is grateful for — everyone who had a hand in the completion of these cases and the safety of these children," Brewer said in a statement.
Five senior CPS workers were fired after the director of the new agency determined they had created a system that misclassified incoming hotline calls. The workers defended their actions, saying they followed orders to create a system that culled out low-priority cases and lowered crushing caseloads.
The problems at the state's child welfare agency weren't new. The agency had been struggling after years of funding cuts, high turnover rates of social workers and a huge backlog of about 15,000 cases that hadn't been assigned to workers.
That number has been dropping steadily in the past 10 months and now stands at about 1,500, Department of Child Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Bowser-Richards said.
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