No Surprise: Cuts to Child Welfare Have Hurt State ; OUR VIEW: Report Shows Cases of Neglect, Abuse Spiked after Funding Was Slashed

AZ Daily Star, July 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

No Surprise: Cuts to Child Welfare Have Hurt State ; OUR VIEW: Report Shows Cases of Neglect, Abuse Spiked after Funding Was Slashed


A new independent analysis of Arizona's child welfare has found evidence of what many in the field already know to be true: during the recession, the Legislature cut funding for the vital safety net services, like subsidized day care, precisely when an increasing number of struggling families needed them most.

And as the number of child neglect reports increased, Arizona cut staffing levels and funding for child protection services. The result was an overwhelmed system that didn't screen abuse and neglect reports in a uniform way and couldn't offer families support services that would have kept children at home, so moving a large number of kids into foster care, where they waited many months for a custody decision.

The review by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago states that not only did the number of reports to the state's child abuse hotline increase by 44 percent between 2010 and 2014 -- (there were 48,032 reports in 2014) but the number of substantiated cases has increased. Historically, 6 to 8 percent of reports of abuse or neglect were determined to be true, but the number has risen to 12 percent.

The child-safety crisis that eventually prompted taking the agency out of the Department of Economic Security and making it into its own freestanding Department of Child Safety did not come out of the blue. Cutting social-service programs that helped families and children in crisis was a short-term budget fix that made the problem worse. It was a predictable outcome.

"The well-being of children is tied generally to poverty because families without material resources often struggle to raise children without assistance. In Arizona, the socio-economic status of families suggests that more and more children were living in vulnerable circumstances," the report states.

"Even if there were no specific increase in risk, a simple increase in numbers would predict a rising demand for services from human service systems, including the child welfare system."

For example, in 2009, about 45,000 Arizona children were in subsidized child care, and the state budgeted $193.7 million. The subsidies helped working parents in particular. But lawmakers cut the program's budget by almost half to $100 million by 2014, and fewer than 25,000 kids were covered.

These numbers are not a secret. Arizonans have watched this crisis unfold over the past several years. The reports of child abuse have declined while neglect reports have skyrocketed. It's an illustration of how budget decisions don't happen in isolation. …

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