Audit says CPS slow to probe abuse

Agency often misses deadlines to investigate, report says

by Casey Newton/The Arizona Republic
June 29, 2009

Child Protective Services investigators are failing to investigate complaints of abuse in group homes and treatment centers in the required time frame, an audit has found, placing children at risk of further harm.

The audit also found gaps in CPS record-keeping that have allowed treatment-center employees with substantiated complaints of child abuse to get new jobs in group homes, where they have committed further abuse.

The Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, agreed with the audit's findings and said it would implement changes to address the problems. A DES spokeswoman said she would be unable to address the findings before today. Click here to find out more!

In 2008, nearly 5,500 children were in what the state calls "congregate care" - group homes, shelters or residential treatment centers.

State law requires CPS to complete an investigation of any alleged child abuse at a congregate-care facility within 21 days and enter their findings into a database.

Since 2007, the Office of the Auditor General found, CPS completed its investigations on time in only four out of 147 cases, or 3 percent.

More than half of the division's reports took another one to six months to complete. Some cases took investigators more than a year.

The audit found that CPS has not investigated any complaints at residential treatment centers, which house larger numbers of children than group homes or shelters, saying it lacks the statutory authority. The Department of Health Services is charged with investigating abuse claims in those facilities.

As a result, information about employees who are found to have abused children in treatment centers is never entered into a CPS database used to screen new employees.

In one case reviewed by auditors, a boy in a treatment center alleged that a staffer had abused him. Because information about the abuse was never entered into a CPS database, the staffer was able to get a job at a second group home and abused another child, the audit found. The staffer was working at a third group home before CPS realized the problem.

Melanie Chesney, director of performance audits for the auditor general, said the staff member no longer worked with children. She refused to release the employee's name or other details about the case, saying it would violate department policy.

Most children removed from their homes are placed with a relative or foster family. But some children have special needs or circumstances that require them to be placed in group settings.

Auditors do not believe abuse in treatment centers is widespread.

"Our concern is there's the potential for it to occur because of the problems we noted in the report," Chesney said.

In response, DES said it would revise the unit's procedures to better track investigations.

"The department agrees with and is currently implementing the recommendations," said Neal Young, DES director, in a letter to Auditor General Debbie Davenport.

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