On Monday the Arizona House Children and Family Affairs Committee passed unanimously HB2427, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Townsend, which will require the Department of Child Safety to apply rules the policies uniformly across the state. The bill was sought by parents and social workers alike in response to what has been a system in chaos.
In September 2015, the Arizona Auditor General released a damaging report in which it was revealed that children have been ripped away from their families by inexperienced and overworked caseworkers. The audit found that the Department’s “child safety and risk assessment tool does not sufficiently guide caseworkers in making child safety decisions.”
One of the most damaging findings was the determination that the Department “has inadequately implemented critical components of its child safety and risk assessment process.”
The audit found: “In Arizona, child removals have been increasing.”
The report focused on the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s child safety and risk assessment practices, including its approach for determining whether to remove a child from their home. According to the auditors, the Department uses three common factors to assess child safety. The Department uses multiple factors in its assessment process and relies on caseworker judgment to assess risk.
“The Department’s child safety and risk assessment tool does not sufficiently guide caseworkers in making child safety decisions,” writes the auditors. “Insufficient training has also limited caseworkers’ ability to conduct child safety and risk assessments.” Auditors found, that although “caseworkers and supervisors should come to these meetings with open minds, some indicated that they come with their decision already made regarding the child – removal decision and may not adequately engage with families during the meeting.”
Rep Townsend stated after the bill’s passage, “I am serving on the Child and Family Services committee for the fourth year, where I have learned the challenges faced by DCS and the efforts to reform the agency. To learn more about where the real problems lie, I went on three separate ride-alongs where I learned from those in the field what challenges existed. There were uniform concerns with the quality of training, the amount of work place on individual case workers, the turnover rate, and especially the high number of children being removed. Where the agency used to have a uniform code for the criteria to remove a child, they have since abandoned that practice and now allow each facility to create their own removal criteria. Although the training and workload issues will be addressed internally, I felt that mandating a uniform removal criteria was an urgent matter. I am pleased that the bill passed with bipartisan support.”
HB 2427 states that the Department of Child Safety (DCS) must apply the rules adopted and the policies established uniformly across the state.
According to the legislative overview, currently A.R.S § 8-822 states that DCS must adopt rules and establish clear policies and procedures, where appropriate to:
Determine when it is appropriate to remove a child from the custody of the child’s parents, guardian or custodian; and
Ensure the immediate notification of the child’s parents, guardian or custodian regarding the removal of the child from home, school or child care and the timely interview of the child and the child’s parent, guardian or custodian.
Except in the case of an emergency, DCS may not remove a child from the custody of the child’s parents, guardian or custodian unless both of the following occur before the removal:
The child safety worker who is recommending the removal submits the reasons for removal and supporting information to the workers supervisor; and
The workers supervisor reviews the reasons and supporting information and approves removal.
If an emergency exists affecting the health or safety of a child, a child safety worker may remove the child before notifying the worker’s supervisor. The child safety worker must submit the reasons for removal and supporting information to the worker’s supervisor for the supervisor’s review and approval within two hours after the removal of the child or, if the removal occurs after regular working hours, by 8:30 a.m. the next day.