Bill Reforming AZ Child Welfare System Getting Close
PHOENIX – A working group that includes lawmakers from both parties is expected to finalize draft legislation to reform Arizona's child welfare system in a closed-door meeting today.
Dana Wolfe Naimark, president of Children's Action Alliance, says the measure will include increased staffing to deal with the still-growing number of abuse and neglect cases in the state.
"So there's now 12,000 or more inactive cases where there's no documented case notes in 60 days or more,” she explains. “That's a reason that they need more staffing because they have to deal with that backlog and also prevent such a backlog from building up again in the future."
Naimark and other children's advocates expect to be asked for their input once the working group reaches consensus, possibly in the next week or so.
Lawmakers are expected to take up the issue in a special session around Memorial Day.
Naimark says a successful child welfare reform bill will include increased system transparency.
She says she'd like to see an oversight committee that engages in an ongoing, two-way community discussion of issues, and not just in times of crisis.
"Things like their budget request, some of their best-practice tools, what does their service array look like,” she stresses. “Bringing the community in, both to let the agency know about problems that are in the community, but also to give input and help shape what the agency does."
Naimark also would like to see lawmakers begin to restore some of the $86 million in child care subsidies that have been cut in the last five years – cuts she says coincide with a rise in child neglect cases.
"There's been skyrocketing growth in those reports of neglect, and again I'm not saying it's all caused by cuts in child care, but it's a contributing factor," she says.
Naimark says she is mystified that some lawmakers consider child care subsidies as welfare.
She says they're the opposite of welfare because they incentivize people to work.
"It's so targeted,” she says. “I mean literally, if you work a half day you only get a half-day voucher.
“And the child care center has to report. If the kid is absent, they're not getting paid. It is designed to help people be stable employees and be at work."
Since Arizona lawmakers froze child care subsidies for working poor families in 2009, the number of children in the program has dropped from 29,000 to 7,000.