Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 9, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

CPS Audit


  • Arizona Office of the Auditor General found that Child Protective Services investigators are failing to investigate complaints of abuse in group homes and treatment centers in a required time frame.
Guests:
  • Jakki Hillis - Acting Assistant Director, DES Division of Children, Youth, and Families
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
A recent state audit of Child Protective Services accuses the agency of failing to investigate complaints of abuse in treatment centers and group homes in the required time frame. The auditor general's report also found gaps in recordkeeping at C.P.S. that allowed employees at treatment centers with substantiated complaints of child abuse to find new jobs in group homes, where they've committed further abuse. Joining me tonight to talk about the audit and what C.P.S. is doing about the findings is Jakki Hillis, acting assistant director of the Division of Children, Youth and Families with C.P.S. Thank you for joining us tonight. We appreciate seeing you here.

Jakki Hillis:
It's my pleasure.

Ted Simons:
The idea of C.P.S. not investigating abuse in a required time. That's 21 days?

Jakki Hillis:
The 21-day time frame is to enter the findings in the system. To document the findings.

Ted Simons:
Ok. That was met only 3% of the time according to the report. What happened?

Jakki Hillis:
Let me explain. First and foremost, that Child Protective Services responded to the reports in a very timely manner. We quickly responded to make face-to-face contact with the children involved and to take actions needed to ensure child safety. The timeliness of the initial response and the appropriateness of the initial response is not what's in question. What the audit findings indicate are that we need to do a better job in terms of our case record documentation of all of the investigative activities taking place throughout the course of the investigation, including getting the findings entered into the system within the required time frames. On that point, we certainly agree with the findings and have already taken action to improve the timeliness of case record documentation.

Ted Simons:
So at a better rate than 3%. Was it enough contact to where children were not as much at harm? Sounds like the report says investigations of what was going on weren't happening in a timely fashion.

Jakki Hillis:
Again, the initial response to ensure the child safety has been happening in a very timely manner. If you read the report very carefully, it focuses on completion of the investigation and the documentation throughout the course of the investigation. That's the area where we need to be more timely.

Ted Simons:
With that in mind, does C.P.S. needed to reprioritize investigations?

Jakki Hillis:
In terms of the investigation process, the initial response obviously to ensure child safety is absolutely the top priority. I don't see any need to change that. Again, when we're talking about the documentation over the course of the rest of the investigation, as indicated in our response, we certainly agree with the findings of the auditor there.

Ted Simons:
Reprioritizing the rest of the investigations would be something that could be in order?

Jakki Hillis:
Absolutely and taking steps to ensure that that documentation is happening in a timely manner.

Ted Simons:
Are there differences in investigating group homes and single family homes?

Jakki Hillis:
There can be in terms of number of children who may need to be interviewed and oftentimes number of adults who need to be interviewed. In a group home, you may have different staff involved in the facility at different times. Oftentimes, just by sheer number of individuals involved, that can be a key difference, as compared to the typical family home.

Ted Simons:
The audit report also mentioned are residential treatment workers getting jobs at smaller group homes that C.P.S. oversees. How did that happen?

Jakki Hillis:
Let me say with regard to the specific situation that was referenced, that individual was placed on the C.P.S. central registry, the database where substantiated reports are recorded, quite some type ago at the point in time that we had the information to substantiate the report and due process procedure had been completed. In that particular instance, as soon as we had a report with enough evidence to substantiate the allegations, the case manager entered -- the proposed finding which triggered the due process for that individual to provide notification and that individual's opportunity to request further review or appeal. It was during the due process time frame that this individual went on to work for another agency, and actually was terminated within a short time frame, before the due process had been completed. By Arizona law, we cannot enter a substantiated finding on the central registry until due process has been completed to ensure that individuals are not falsely labeled.

Ted Simons:
That sounds like a long answer in response to someone who should not have been around children being around children for a substantial period. How does that change? What needs to be done so that doesn't happen again?

Jakki Hillis:
There's two pieces. The first is the timeliness of the case record finding entered into the system and as we've established, that's something that we're committed to improving. The second is the due process time frame and the reality is there's that window of opportunity by Arizona law because due process is a right afforded to individuals. So there's that window of opportunity during the appeals process where a person can apply for a job in another agency.

Ted Simons:
Can we close that window of opportunity?

Jakki Hillis:
That would require statutory change.

Ted Simons:
Are you working for that statutory change?

Jakki Hillis:
At this point in time, we're not proposing that, it's something that could be explored.

Ted Simons:
Is that something -- ok. So something you could look at down the road, perhaps?

Jakki Hillis:
Policymakers could take a look at that. The reality is due process is a fundamental right in this country and certainly the state. So again, it goes back to the concern that individuals in the state would have in terms of not wanting to be falsely labeled. So that due process is a right that is afforded under state law.

Ted Simons:
And I think most folks would understand that, but most folks would also understand that someone was around children when they shouldn't have been or seemed like they shouldn't have been and around children in two settings when they shouldn't have been. There's got to be a way to make sure due process is followed but that person is not around children. Is there a way to streamline the process and make sure that doesn't happen again?

Jakki Hillis:
Again, I guess I have to reference the timelines for the due process to a large extent are outlined in statute. The time frame by which an individual must receive notification and then has 14-day time period to respond to that notification and then the time frame, if they choose to appeal, so in order to make any changes there, it would require statutory change.

Ted Simons:
Would you like to see statutory change on this?

Jakki Hillis:
At this point, I don't know that my personal views are what is most relevant. I certainly support due process rights, including those that apply to individuals being placed on the central registry. So I certainly would not want to do anything that would take away those rights that individuals would have.

Ted Simons:
But we would all agree, wouldn't want to do anything that would put children in harm's way with an employee, especially in group homes.

Jakki Hillis:
The absolute priority is to ensure the safety of the children. The C.P.S. registry check is just one factor that can be considered in terms of making employment decisions. So certainly, other actions such as checking references and so forth would be a critical component in terms of the hiring process.

Ted Simons:
Is there a disconnect between D.H.S. and C.P.S.?

Jakki Hillis:
Actually, the case cited involves an individual who is employed in group homes for a welfare agency, not R.T.C.'s. There's a separate issue in terms of R.T.C.'s not being investigated by Child Protective Services. In that case, the fundamental issue is it's not that those allegations go un-investigated. They are responded to. The authorities who do respond are simply not Child Protective Services. Department of Health Services which licenses the R.T.C.'s, investigates and where appropriate, law enforcement would be called in to investigate as well. I don't see any disconnect on that issue between D.E.S. and Department of Health Services. In fact, if the investigation were to involve a child who is in Child Protective Services custody, the C.P.S. manager would be informed and have that opportunity to take immediate protective action as needed.

Ted Simons:
The last question. Sounds like there is an agreement that something needs to change and improve. Sounds like D.E.S. is saying something needs to change and we will change it. We agree with everything. And yet I'm hearing explanations for a lot of this, that it may not be as bad as the audit spells out. Is it as bad at the audit spells out?

Jakki Hillis:
As indicated, we've agreed with the findings. I think that the information that I've been able to share here provides some context for each of the findings that were identified here. The entire array of responsibilities that Child Protective Services has are critical and there's no question about that. Even though I've made the point that C.P.S. has responded in a timely manner to the reports that have come in and agree that that is the most important aspect of ensuring child safety, the case documentation is also a part of our responsibility.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jakki Hillis:
Thank you.

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