Senator Debbie Lesko today filed a bill to help the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) clear up the backlog of thousands of children who may be in danger. The overall goal is to give the agency immediate relief, by enabling caseworkers to handle incoming hotline referrals and not be overburdened by unattainable caseloads.
Reports of a backlog of child safety cases came out nearly two years ago. At the time, there were 13,024 cases. In a special session of the Legislature, more than $45 million was appropriated to eliminate the backlog over two years. Since that time, the backlog has actually increased. The latest report, on December 12, 2015, showed a backlog of 14,392.
The piecemeal approach is clearly not working. Borrowing employees from other agencies and using overtime for already stressed employees with high caseloads has not worked. There is a need for skilled, experienced workers. Caseworkers have been pleading with the Legislature to help.
SB 1142 should provide that relief. The bill requires DCS to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to interested parties to address the backlog. That would give the state an idea of what it will cost to get this done, to make sure the children are safe. In the meantime, DCS workers could then concentrate on investigating new cases of possible child neglect or abuse.
“One of my greatest responsibilities as a state senator is the safety and protection of our children. I cannot stand on the sidelines and wonder whether the lives of 14,000 children are in danger,” said Sen. Lesko.
SB 1142 is already seeing widespread, bipartisan support in the Senate.
Rep. John Allen is filing an identical bill in the House. “We want to take the opportunity to assess the safety of these at-risk children. With this measure we add another tool to bring these important investigations to a close,” said Rep. Allen.