Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. >
Narrator: Democratic state senator Leah Landrum Taylor made it official today, she is running for secretary of state. Landrum Taylor has been in the state legislature for years and until recently served as senate minority leader. Landrum Taylor says she's running for secretary of state to, quote -- Make sure Arizona's electoral system is honest and trustworthy. >
Ted Simons: Governor Brewer recently created a team to provide oversight for thousands of uninvestigated child abuse cases. The child advocate response examination team will investigate CPS's action and report to the governor by the end of January. Joining us now is care team chair, Charles Flanagan, director of the Arizona department of juvenile corrections, and joining us is care team member and state representative Katie Brophy McGee. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us. The care team. What exactly is this team charged with doing?
Charles Flanagan: Actually, that's a great question. And it has been confused in some people's minds because there are multiple things that are happening at the same time around this issue. But the care team directive are charges from Governor Brewer are simple -- The first is that we are to oversee the investigation into the thousands of N.I. cases, or not investigated cases, and the second part of that is to look at the system, the process, the personnel, and to determine what recommendations we can make to the governor so that something like this not investigated problem can arise again.
Ted Simons: So it basically is overseeing what other people are investigating. Will the care team be investigating itself?
Kate Brophy McGee: I think the care team has a role, as directed by the governor, that is very clear. I view us as a crisis team in terms of looking at those -- Finding those missing children, putting boots on the ground to make sure that gets done very quickly. And I think the members on the team are independent, we're all very child centered, and we are all focused on making sure those children are search.
Ted Simons: In terms of a strategy, how does the team oversee? Let's start with the or so hundred in uninvestigated cases. How are you doing this?
Charles Flanagan: As of now we have , cases that we've identified definitively as being in the pool of a case that was at one point or another identified as N.I. or not investigated. As the governor pointed out, this means that case was pulled before it got to the manager and the caseworkers in the field. That means they never saw these. They didn't know they were there. So because it spans such a great period of time, from forward, what we're doing is first verifying the information. And most people have a hard time understanding that. So before we became involved, CPS began reviewing these cases, and they mutt some information out. When we were empanelled by the governor, we wanted to be sure the people reviewing the case were uninvolved in the N.I. process, in making decisions about them or involved in the process. That took time. Secondly, we wanted to make sure the decisions they made, the recommendations they made about these cases were appropriate ones. Now, because the database system from the department of economic security is so large and so cumbersome, what we're trying to do is figure out which of these cases might have had a subsequent report in which the child was seen, because the governor made it clear, and as representative said, our first priority is the safety of safety of these children. We want to know every child associated with all of these cases, and it will probably be more than the six thousand five hundred and sixty four. And we want to make sure they're safe. And then to pursue the investigation that's required by law, that CPS should be doing, and then subsequently to make those recommendations for change.
Ted Simons: I want to get back to the logistics in a second. How then does the care team differ from the DPS investigation? From CPS's investigation? Compare and contrast, please.
Kate Brophy McGee: I would say the care team is focused first of all on the cases. Another piece of it is restoring the public's trust in how these cases have been dealt with, because the public trust in my perception was lost with the discovery of these cases. So it's important in going forward that we make sure that these cases are properly investigated and that eyes are laid on every single one of these children. My understanding of the DPS case is it's more of a forensic case, trying to understand how this happened, and -- And I think director Flanagan could explain that. As far as the CPS self-investigation, I think that's an internal admin administrative review.
Ted Simons: You are not necessarily sharing information with these other investigations?
Charles Flanagan: I wouldn't say that's true. If we discover snag we believe DPS needs to know in the pursuit of their administrative investigation, then we will certainly do so. If we discover something that director Carter needs to know as he pursues his administrative investigation, we'll provide it to them. And then we have the legislative oversight committee, which is also looking at this problem. But there are -- And I think representative did a great job of describing what those differences are. Our primary focus per the governor is the safety of these children. Our secondary is to ensure that we help to restore the trust in CPS, and she was very clear, the CPS caseworkers, the investigators that are at the line level providing these services, these are overworked, very, very caring people that are trying to do their best for these children. It has nothing to do with them, it has to do with the system.
Ted Simons: If you find a problem, if the team finds a problem or finds a particular case that is a double red flag here, do you act immediately, what happens? Is it all just pooled? I think a lot of people are concerned, there's a lot of investigation going on here, and maybe there are some kids that might still be at risk as everyone is investigating all sorts of things. What happens if you find something?
Charles Flanagan: That's an excellent question. From all of my experience in juvenile corrections, adult corrections, and my contact with law enforcement, you will treat each individual bit of information individually. So it depends on the circumstances. If we find things that need to be acted on immediately, we'll act on them immediately. Whether that be a referral to another organization, to another law enforcement entity, and certainly by reporting it. And the governor has made it very clear, we are to be completely open and transparent. We are doing the best we can do in that arena without betraying the identity of the children, or the people involved in making the reports. So just one final point to make on this that I think is really critical is that we intend to present long-term potential solutions to the governor. But our primary focus now is getting out to see these children. And this would not have been discovered had it not been for the advocacy of Governor Brewer in creating legislative change to include the office of child welfare investigations, and the support from the legislature to do that. And so we already have processes in place to make those referrals.
Ted Simons: Obviously these cases did not make it to the caseworkers. What can you tell us? Why did they not make it to caseworker desks?
Kate Brophy McGee: I can tell you functionally how it happened. That there was an internal team of senior level investigator -- Caseworkers who literally would go in and pull these cases off the line so to speak, and make a determination that no further investigation was warranted. What that speaks to me as a policymaker is something in the system went terribly wrong. And I am really more focused in understanding what went wrong, how are the practices and procedures that are occurring at CPS, or that occurred at CPS, how did this happen and what do we need to fix from a policy standpoint to make sure that it never happens again?
Ted Simons: What are you learning? Why did these people think that was an appropriate thing to do?
Kate Brophy McGee: I don't have an answer to that. I am certain that there is some type of rationalizations that occurred, but I can go all over the place and speculate what it might be, I want to know the results of the DPS investigation. It is so easy in an environment that is so highly charged with emotion, as this situation is, to jump to all kinds of conclusions. And I simply refuse to do that.
Ted Simons: And I'm not looking for you to jump to conclusions, but I think because this is an investigative team, people are saying, what are you learning? What are you hearing, why did this happen, and if you haven't -- Five CPS staffers have been fired now. Why?
Kate Brophy McGee: Place order administrative leave.
Ted Simons: Administrative leave.
Charles Flanagan: Exactly.
Ted Simons: For most of us we think of it as fired.
Charles Flanagan: No, no, no. They were place order administrative leave by director Carter because he determined that it was important for them to be away from the workplace while the administrative investigation were ongoing, because of their involvement in this case. They've not been found guilty of anything yet, there's been no punishment or disciplinary issue that is still pending.
Ted Simons: Are you getting cooperation from CPS, from everyone, that you're looking at?
Charles Flanagan: Yes. I will tell you, first of all, I know the heart of representative Katie Brophy McGee, senator Leah Landrum Taylor and our governor for children, and I know how much this makes this issue a priority for them and how important it is to them and to me as well, and the other members of this team. We're all basically people who are involved in the child welfare system at one level or another. The second thing is, yes, we've been receiving assistance within the ability of folks to work with us, and quite Frankly that's been mandated. The governor's office has been very helpful in getting us to get to the things we need to get to. There are people in DES and DCYF and CPS that have been helpful, and we've had a tremendous outpouring of support from people in the community, from legislators, from former judges, because of my contact with the juvenile justice system, the judges, the court directors, they've been reaching out to provide assistance to us. The administrative office of the court, and individuals, foster parents, we were both at the forum that was held in the community, and I listened to every person who presented there. We're going to receive all of the written comments that were made there. And I can tell you the people there, it was an incredibly positive experience.
Ted Simons: We actually talked to some folks who helped lead that particular event. As far as what you've been finding so far, people don't want speculation, three but they want to know something has been found or something is being found. Are you finding things?
Kate Brophy McGee: I think -- As I said, we're very beginning in the process, and my first priority is to find those children. But I will tell you, from testimony, from communication, from constituents and those types of stakeholders who work with the CPS system and its affiliates, I think what you're seeing is, or what I believe I'm seeing is a breakdown, a numerous breakdowns within the system so that decision making quit being uniform and went awry. Again, I would like to understand how that occurred or what the rationalization was, but when the system became overwhelmed with cases, and the rising case loads that occurred with the - great recession, I think the system broke down. And that's why I'm looking to separate the agency out from a far larger agency. Because I think it needs more hands on management, and when you look at DPS as a whole, CPS being part of that, it's much too large of an agency for one single person to manage. It needs more attention, and it needs more focus.
Ted Simons: We have to -- That suggestion has occurred in conversations we've had previously as well. The idea of , case backlog, , cases still not completed, now we've got investigations coming here, there, everywhere. Is the work of protecting children, be that as it may, is it getting done during all of this?
Kate Brophy McGee: I think assurances are -- Work is being done to make sure that it's getting done, at least to the extent that it has. One of my concerns prior to the discovery of these not investigated cases was the build-up of this backlog and its continuation. In a sense it has become part of the system or part of the case load. And one of the things that I'm looking for and talking to different people about is assuming we can figure out the N.I. situation, how do we then and can we use that information to address the backlog? Which is more significant.
Ted Simons: Quickly, please.
Charles Flanagan: Just to add something to that, in my role in juvenile justice, what we found is that there has been throughout the nation a decline in juvenile delinquency, but there's an explosion in juvenile dependency. And so I think part of this is that there has been this huge increase in the night, there are many, many unmet needs that are out there, so the agency has been forced to do a lot. And I would also mention we have our website, and so we have been receiving information there. We are posting updates there as many as we can, it will eventually become faster as we make more progress. And then we're about to start a --number so people can contact us.
Kate Brophy McGee: And I’d also mention that members of the care team are meeting with the different types of groups and organizations from court appointed special advocates, to the judicial system, to foster care -- Trying to gain input and insights from them.
Ted Simons: Real quickly, we're running out of time, critics say a one-time blue ribbon panel, can it really change anything?
Charles Flanagan: I think the answer is, we have a very small, usually that's the case, window of opportunity here to effect change. So two things. We are working on trying to get eyes on every one of these children and assure their safety. And I'm confident that we will have a really good handle on that before the end of the two months. The second is, we're looking at the system and the process and the people and the policies and the procedures, and making recommendations for change. And if people understand the magnitude of this issue, and we have advocates in the legislature and in the community to help give the -- Empower the legislature and the executive to make these changes, yes, I think we can make changes that are long-term.
Ted Simons: All right. It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for the opportunity.