Senior CPS Worker Defends AZ Agency

In county after county nationwide, caseloads far exceed standards for the profession. Given that fact alone, we guarantee that errors will occur and children will be injured, neglected and even killed because of it.
A senior Arizona Child Protective Services worker defends CPS practices here (Arizona Republic, 9/16/11).

I, like so many others, have complained frequently about the actions and inactions of CPS in a number of different cases across the country.  Unlike many others, I’ve always tried to put CPS, and particularly its caseworkers, in perspective.

Time and again I’ve reminded readers that the job of CPS caseworker must be one of the most thankless in the world.  I’ll say it again; they’re overworked and underpaid.  Into the bargain, they do one of society’s few jobs in which errors can literally be fatal to a child.  In county after county nationwide, caseloads far exceed standards for the profession.  Given that fact alone, we guarantee that errors will occur and children will be injured, neglected and even killed because of it.

That said, I recently reported on an op-ed piece by a senior CPS employee that was rife with self-pity and defensiveness.  His article made some good points to which we should all pay attention, but his “poor, poor pitiful me” attitude virtually assured that no one would.

The linked to piece is not as bad, but again it reflects a bureaucratic mindset that seems to have little understanding of what so many have complained about for so long.  The Arizona Republic has been highly critical of CPS in several cases, so the article is in the nature of balance – making sure CPS has its say.

Columnist E.J. Montini received a letter from the man, a long-time caseworker and apparently now a supervisor.  Like the previous op-ed, my guess is that this man’s letter will be dismissed out of hand by most readers.  That’s not because he doesn’t have important points to make; he does.  But again, he can’t seem to free himself of a bureaucratic tendency to point the finger at someone else.

Most importantly, neither this writer nor the previous one betrays the slightest notion of the critical nature of the job we pay them to do – preventing injury to children.  Not once does he say anything like “our job is to protect children and when we fail to do that we need to take responsibility.”  The closest he gets is “”Tragedy happens and society wants to know who should be blamed. We all should.”  Hey, stuff happens.

And when it comes to blame, well, apparently none should fall on CPS.  To try to convince us, the writer sets up a few straw men and dutifully knocks them over.  For example, he claims the public has been led to believe that “CPS workers are lazy and simply do not want to do their jobs.”  Have you ever read that anywhere?  I haven’t, and I read a lot about CPS.

Then there’s this: “If a child has a bruise and CPS does not remove them then we screwed up.”  Again, has anyone ever made such a claim?  No, actually, the complaints I see are of injuries a little more serious than a bruise.  When you read, as I do, daily accounts of beatings, starvation and death, many of which are suffered by children who have long been on the CPS radar, it’s difficult take statements like the above seriously.

So, in what’s coming to seem typical, the writer leads with straw-man arguments and a defensive, “it’s not our fault” attitude that are bound to turn off the average reader.  Then, having alienated his audience, he proceeds to make some pretty good points.

As I’ve said before, the average caseworker is overworked.  Likewise, the average CPS agency is underfunded.  So the simple fact is that children will suffer, not because caseworkers aren’t trying, but because they have too much to do to do it competently.  That’s not entirely the fault of individual caseworkers but that of a system that says it wants children to be protected, but then fails to pony up the bucks to do so.

More interesting is the writer’s contention that people who are supposed to help often don’t.  Sometimes they make matters worse.  He claims that hospital emergency room personnel often fail to report abuse.  If true, there’s not much CPS can do.

How about police? They are supposed to call us when they suspect abuse or neglect. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. There are cases involving sexual-abuse allegations that are currently open for months because the police have not gotten around to interviewing the children and refuse to allow CPS to talk to anyone because it might tip the suspect.

Again, if that’s true (and he claims there are current cases in which it is), that’s an obvious impediment to CPS investigating and protecting children who may be at risk of injury.

The writer closes with a jab at “the media.”  The Republicrecently ran a piece excoriating the secrecy with which CPS prefers to operate.  (As if to underline the point, the writer of the letter to Montini refuses to divulge his name.)  It’s true of course that most CPS cases by law must remain confidential.  And when the writer says, “If CPS came to your house would you want me talking about you to your neighbors?” he’s got a point.

But it’s not the point the Republic made.  In the case it’s trying to publicize, a four-month-old girl almost died from severe beatings that broke 14 of her bones and left her with other injuries.  When she was brought to the emergency room, she wasn’t breathing.  Now, Arizona and federal laws make it clear that any case of serious injury is not confidential, but CPS pretends that it’s prohibited from disclosing information about “Baby Josephine.”

Put simply, that’s bunk.  The fact is that the child was almost killed by a woman whom CPS named a “safety monitor” or her boyfriend who’s a convicted felon.  Does CPS seriously expect the public to believe that it has no right to know how Angelica Jimenez became a “safety monitor” while living with a felon?

The two pieces by senior CPS officials do a great service to the public; they give us a better idea than we already had about the problems that beset CPS.  Some of those problems are not of CPS’s making, but some are.  The most important of those is the bureaucratic mindset that says “pass the buck” and CYA.  That mindset is there for all to see in Montini’s column.

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