Gov. Jan Brewer punctuated her State of the State address Monday by announcing that she had abolished the problem-plagued Child Protective Services, rebranded it and would push for it to become a stand-alone office reporting directly to her.
The move got a mixed reaction from lawmakers. Although lawmakers and Capitol observers acknowledged something had to be done about an agency that has been swamped by complaints of child abuse and neglect — and that most recently shelved more than 6,500 such reports without any investigation — they said the move must be approached cautiously.
Brewer acknowledged the move alone won’t solve the problems at CPS, which is housed within the Department of Economic Security. But, she added, it’s a needed first step. She called on lawmakers to “statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses exclusively on the safety and well-being of children and helping families in distress without jeopardizing child safety.”
“It is evident that our child-welfare system is broken, impeded by years of structural and operational failures,” Brewer told lawmakers. “It breaks my heart and makes me angry!”
Her executive order makes the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services part of her Cabinet, effective immediately.
She named Charles Flanagan to lead the new division. Flanagan is on leave from his post as director of the Department of Juvenile Corrections while leading Brewer’s handpicked Child Advocate Response Examination Team, which is poring over 6,554 reports of abuse and neglect that were discovered 21/2 months ago.
Brewer’s order also moves the Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which discovered the uninvestigated reports, to the new Cabinet agency and makes it responsible for overseeing the CPS hotline. That office no longer reports to DES Director Clarence Carter, although it will take a state law to formally change the arrangement.
Carter remains head of the DES, a mega-agency that includes food-stamp administration, child-support enforcement and unemployment benefits.
Brewer wants lawmakers to build on her executive order and make the newly named Division of Child Safety and Family Services a stand-alone agency. It takes a state law to do that, a move many have discussed during the most recent CPS crisis. In addition to handling reports of child abuse and neglect, the division is responsible for foster care, adoption services and a medical and dental program.