Arizona legislators begin a special session on Tuesday aimed at crafting a new state child welfare agency after an internal investigation found widespread neglect and abuse throughout the old system.
Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in January signed an executive order abolishing the state Child Protective Service after revelations in December that more than 6,000 allegations of abuse lodged with a service hotline went uninvestigated. In its place, Brewer created a new Cabinet-level department, the Division of Child Safety and Family Services, to handle everything from adoption to foster care to abuse claims.
Now, legislators have to craft the outlines of that new agency, and find the money to fund it. Brewer has called for almost $60 million in new funding for the agency through the end of Fiscal Year 2015, money that will go toward hiring new caseworkers, criminal investigators and support staff.
The nascent agency will face a backlog of nearly 15,000 cases when it starts operating on July 1. Brewer has asked for an additional $4 million to pay overtime for staffers who will tackle the roster of open cases.
Creating the new agency was Brewer’s top priority during this year’s legislative session. Her proposal takes responsibility for child welfare away from the Department of Economic Security, which oversaw Child Protective Services. All told, the new department will include [pdf] about 3,100 employees with an annual budget of around $827 million.
The Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which overlooked the thousands of uninvestigated cases, will now report directly to the new department’s director. Charles Flanagan, who will head the department, said a series of audits will improve transparency.