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Arizona Family Rights Project

INITIAL REPORTING Few would disagree with an agency responsible for the protection of children. No one wants to see harm come to any child. However, the current protection agencies are failing the children, often creating more abuse rather than providing the protections. Often times people use the child protective agency as a means of retailiation or to harass a family member, ex, or neighbor.. Sometimes the well-intentioned well by-passer passer makes a call because they saw something they deemed “inappropriate” parenting. The handling of the initial call or letter into a CPS agency is one of the most important, and may greatly affect the outcome of the case. One legislator is advocating for treating every call into CPS as a 911 emergency call and dialing it down from there. While you have to treat each report as a potential abuse situation, unless you put strict restraints and safeguards on the call and follow up procedures, this response could do more damage to the family and the child. Overloading a system by treating all calls as 911 emergencies will result in more children n being removed without cause, as well as missing children that should have received a response due to understaffing and overworked case workers. While each call must be taken seriously, there are some basic changes that could be made in order to prevent the abuse of the system, be it from callers or those within the agency. Recommendations: •

No anonymous calls or letters should be accepted for investigation. investigation This is probably the most important change that needs to be made. If you are not willing to give your name when calling in a potential abusive situation then you are not willing to truly protect the child. Constitutionally, you have a right to face your accuser in a court of law. Without this protection, the accused has no real way to defend themselves. The state would be depriving them of this right. Likewise, if the accusation is true, without a name, you have no witness in a potential criminal case. The caller could be your eye eye-witness witness to a crime, but without a name the police would have no one to contact. In other states where this has been implemented, consistant, unsubstantiated calls from the same individual against the same family raise raises a red-flag flag and are often the result of the individual using the agency to retailiate against someone rather than reporting an actual abuse situation. This takes valuable resources away from cases that truly need a response. These “false callers” are then flagged in the system and any future calls from them would be ignored.

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INITIAL REPORTING •

Penalties need to be in place for false callers. If you call 911 and make false claims you can be held accountable. Calling CPS with intentional false claims should also hold a penalty.

Clear screening procedures need to be established. If the report is coming in by phone, the operator/screener should have a clear script to follow in order to obtain the information and how to code it to get the proper referral response. Reports made by mail or email must be responded to using the same criteria, and if anonymous reporting is not allowed, then a follow up call, letter or even an in person visit could be made to confirm the information as well as obtain any additional information necessary to properly process the report. Any reports using hearsay statements only as their source should result in a response to direct the reporter to have the actual source make the report, or an attempt to identify the person with the first-hand information. Federal law needs to be used in determining if this is a call needing immediate attention, especially if there is the possibility of removing the children from the family. The federal definition of abuse and neglect is: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” Proper and clear screening with this legal definition is absolutely necessary. Reports that meet these criteria would most likely also include a police investigation for criminal behavior and prosecution. Most of the reports into CPS are for the classification of “neglect.” This can be a wide range of allegations and most often the ones levied by false or suspicious reporters. Arizona’s reports of neglect in 2011 at 93.3% exceeded the national average of 78.5%.1 Special care should be taken so the screener doesn’t code the report as neglect when the act is not outside the law and falls within the scope of parental decisions. While the numbers are not readily available, far too many reports of neglect consistent of legal activities, such as home schooling and child vaccinations.

Referral status needs to be clearly defined and adhered to. Once the report is taken, the code assigned to the case will determine the response necessary. The proper coding of a report could save a life while an improper code could destroy a family. Reports that include potential criminal behavior, especially recent activity, should receive the highest codes. Police must be included, if not in charge, of these investigations to preserve the criminal case and ensure the person’s constitutionally protected rights are not violated. Reports putting a child “at risk” but not “imminent harm” need an in person response, such as a home visit or request to appear for an interview.

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Children’s Bureau, www.childwelfare.gov; based on 2011 statistics

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INITIAL REPORTING Reports of alleged neglect that clearly fall into a parental decision or right should be evaluated internally to determine if proper coding was used and where the internal problems may lie. No one is perfect, but investigating a parent/family when the problem is internal is wrong! •

Employees who intentionally misrepresent reports or assign inappropriate codes must be held accountable for their actions, including termination of their employment.

The following quote is taken from the booklet, “A Parent’s Guide to Sexual Abuse Prevention,” given to a client from their therapist. It shows why the internal process is so important, and how abuse within the system can cause more damage and harm to the child than actual abuse. “The world is full of way too many self-righteous people who try to play judge, jury, and executioner all by themselves. When prosecutors are convinced they are in the right, the means you use to get a conviction does not matter all that much as long as you think this person did it. Truth is thrown out for a persons own perception of what he or she thinks is just. Anybody accused of this type of crime is guilty to nine out of 10 people, regardless of the proof. We do not live in a system where people are innocent until proven guilty. People will often easily consider it good and just to make something up, if they believe the end result is what they believe is just.”2 This is the attitude of Arizona’s current CPS system and all those involved, from the initial phone takers, to case workers, to the attorney general’s office. Far too many families that could have been helped through difficult situations are often destroyed instead. Children are removed from families that should not have been, with the very likely chance of never being reunified with their biological family. It is estimated that only 20% of the cases of removal of children from families should have been, leaving 80% inappropriately removed. In Arizona, of those children removed from families, only 50% are actually returned3. With those statistics a large number of children who should have never been removed from their family never make it back home. So it is crucial from the very first contact in the initial report, that information is obtained appropriately and completely, not only to ensure the proper response and investigation, but to prevent families from being falsely accused and potentially destroyed by inappropriate and overzealous internal methods.

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A Parents Guide to Sexual Abuse Prevention”, www.keepyourchildsafe.org Statistics given at an Arizona Foster Parent Orientation Presentation in 2013 by presenter

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