Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) is the official Arizona State government agency responsible for the protection of children. The agency responds to all the reports that concern child abuse or neglect within the state. They are mandated to ensure the safety of all the children by being open complaints from families, neighbors and the general public on issues that affect children. Many children are abused by their family members because of varied reasons. Other children who live with caretakers or guardians may also be exposed to various dangers from the people they trust. Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) has, in the past decades, worked to ensure that the reported cases are followed and investigated to the logical conclusions. Reforms of the current system necessary because of the inability to respond to the reports and dealing with them in a way that fosters unity of the families, growth, security of the affected children.
The agency has encountered numerous challenges in dealing with cases, leading to increases in abuse and neglect caseloads. According to Delap (2015), Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) registered up to 6,500 cases that required urgent action. A backlog of the abuse and neglect cases meant the agency was not in a position to carry out thorough investigations before making the appropriate determination. The problem was compounded by the fact that the members of the agency spent less time to find out factors that compounded the cases. Consequently, they made rushed decisions to separate many affected children from their families (Drake, & Jonson-Reid, 2007). The need for reforms was needed to make the protection efforts effective, both to the children and their families.
Funding is a major component of child protection. The increase of the backlog came from the inconsistent funding of the agency operations from the government. There was never a consistent funding flow that could guarantee the proper running of agency operations. Also, the agency never put priorities right, leading to the misuse of the little available funds meant for protecting the children (Bakalar, 2010). The repercussions were failures and the public outcry against Arizona Child Protective Service. Most of the time, the agency approached its failures by knee-jerk policymaking.
The proposed reforms touched on the operations of the agency as well as the relationship between the agency with child advocacy groups, affected families and foster caregivers. In the past, most of the reforms came from instant reactions to events or tragedies against children within the state. The stakeholders saw the need to fix the system to allow progressive and case to case reforms than instant reactions to child abuse and neglect problems. Internally, the agency needed to work on lean operational procedures that could limit the response time to the reported cases (Delap, 2015). On the same note, it seemed that the agency had a difficult time motivating and retaining staff who had more experience. Reforms targeted training and motivating staff to deliver the quality outcomes of their work. External reforms targeted the relationship between the agency and other stakeholders. For instance, child advocacy groups play important roles in ensuring that programs on the ground are successful. The changes targeted a method that helped a positive relationship between the two agencies.
The external reforms targeted the relationship between Arizona Child Protective Service (CPS) staff and the affected families. In the past, lack of due diligence led to the shoddy investigations that led to the separation of the abused and neglected children from their families. According to Campbell, Cook, LaFleur, & Keenan, (2010), separation led to more trouble for the children because of the abuse in their foster homes. The reforms were to ensure that families were involved in caring for their children. These families were to be supported to provide the best care for the children, instead of taking away their children. Foster caregivers also had a problem in accessing the necessary government support from the agency. It was becoming difficult to cater to the needs of the children under their care. Reforms were to enhance the smooth operations of the agencies and the foster homes. Therefore, the reforms indicated above were meant to bring changes at the individual, group and organizational levels.
Greg McKay is the current director of the Arizona Child Protective Service. He is a former policeman who dealt with childhood abuse and neglect cases. He led the police units that had been responsible for investigating the abuse and neglect cases. His vast experience also comes from the fact that he was a former foster parent of such affected children. He came in after the statewide uproar against the increase of the caseloads and the rate of separation between children and their families without a positive impact. It is important to note that he was not part of the agency at the time of serious failures in the operations that led to the increase of the cases. His coming into the agency was part of the efforts to bring in the new leadership that would reform it.
The proposed changes are transformational rather than transactional. Before Greg McKay’s appointment as Arizona Child Protective Service’s director, the agency relied on the knee-jerk policy approaches. In essence, the agency went into a mode of complacency until a major event like death occurred before coming out strong to condemn it. Mostly, the agency would apportion blame to individuals who may have staggered in their duties. The uproar from such events led to the quick action of formulating policies to deal with the specific occurrence. On the contrary, Greg McKay’s approach is transformational because it seeks to adopt a lean system of operations. It means that all departments are keen on ensuring a quick response and determination of the cases.
Barriers to Change
Reforms need an enabling environment for successful implementation. Arizona Child Protective Service has to overcome several barriers that stand on the way to the changes in place. The first barrier is the lack of support from the affected families. In the past, the state welfare agency was in charge of all operations concerning child welfare. It was the work of the state agency begin and end all the reported cases (Gauthier, Stollak, Messe, & Arnoff, 1996). The proposed changes seek to ensure a smooth and effective process when it comes to dealing with the reported cases. Involving the affected families in the process may be a major barrier to the successful implementation. The state agency should never see itself as the sole driver of the children’s welfare issues. Lack of support from the affected families will present a challenge to ensuring that the affected children get all the support.
Lack of funding is a barrier to the implementation of the changes within the agency. Policymakers are responsible for the allocation of necessary funds towards the agency operations. Inadequate funds lead to the layoff of the staff and the mass exodus of the potential workers. In the past, inconsistent and inadequate funding have led to inconclusive and shoddy investigations (Fieldston, 2015). Without enough funds, the agency will lose some of the experienced workers for lack of motivation. On the same note, many of the affected children need financial support either within the family setup or from foster homes. Without clear structures on financial flow, most of the children may fail to get the necessary support.
Poverty is the main cause of neglect in some families. Most parents have to make choices either to live their children at home to go to work or quit their jobs to look after them. Therefore, certain cases that are reported do not arise from intentional neglect or abuse of the children but the pressures of life. Therefore, lack of safety-net services by the government is a barrier to have efficient child welfare protection. The government should keep providing subsidies that help low-income families in taking care of their children. Reported cases are likely to reduce when low-income families can provide for their children within the family setup.
The demand to clear up old cases may result in making inappropriate decisions by the agency. The reforms seek to ensure that cases are investigated and determined within the shortest time possible. The push to clear several cases within a given timeline may become a barrier to establishing sustainable and long term solutions for the affected parties. Cases are different and taking a customized method would help in finding lasting solutions than hurrying them up to take up other cases.
So far, the resources to drive the Arizona Child Protective Service reform agenda are limited. However, the director works with the relevant federal authorities to ensure that the agency gets enough funds for all operations. Such funds will ensure that the staff is motivated and all cases are professionally handled. A positive factor towards the changes come from the fact that all the top management of the agency have consensus on the reforms they need. All the employees are aware of the challenges the agency has faced in the past when I come to handling children’s welfare within the state. Most of them were aware of the broken system and other barriers that affected effective service delivery. To this end, the agency and the director do not expect much resistance to the reforms from the members. The reforms factor their welfare and smooth operations of the processes. Resistance could only arise from the staff who may be forced to take more cases without commensurate remuneration.
Strategies for Successful Change
Reforms for the Arizona Child Protective Service is long overdue. However, the reforms could only yield positive results when accompanied by proper implementation strategies. To enhance smooth operation and workflow, the agency should implement the lean management system. According to Laird, & Jennifer (2006), lean management is a strategy that borrows from a business process that offers efficiency from the beginning to the end. The agency must have some form of standardization as the baseline for all operations. The lean process should start from the response time to the reports from the field. Also, taking up cases, investigating them and determination should be done professionally. Other than protecting the children, the reforms should also aim at building the capacity of the families to deal with their children. Training of the staff will play an important role in the the proper implementation of the strategies. The agency must invest in human capital to build their capacities to deliver as expected.
Defiance disorder is a common diagnosis from the children removed from their homes. Other children also develop attention-deficit disorders. Most of the cases lead to the removal of the children from their real families and guardians to foster homes and families. Recommendations to take children to foster homes and families are done to provide a safe and enabling environment for them. Research indicates that most of the children under foster care develop oppositional defiance disorder or attention deficit (McCutcheon, 2010). In essence, these children developmental disorders with time. Most of the children fail to cope up with the new environment. Foster homes are different from their family setups, making it difficult to fit in.
Proper reforms should encourage maintaining the relationships between the children and their families. Research finds out that children who receive care under their family environments develop positive mental growth than those taken to foster homes (Scott, 1994). therefore, irrespective of the abuse or neglect the children may face, the agency should handle cases and make the determination that maintains the family relationships. This means that social help must be extended to help the families care for their children. The foster care system does not lead to the positive growth of the children. The more these children are kept away from their families, the more they encounter serious mental growth challenges (Williams, 2015). In the past, caseworkers have portrayed parents and guardians of the abused and neglected children as the problem, leading to increased removal. Retraining of these caseworkers should focus on supporting the parents in understanding the care and protection of the children.
Step by step implementation will yield positive results than trying to fix all the 67 counties within the state. Successful implementation should focus on one county after another to develop long-lasting strategies and solutions (Beckett, 2007). It would be difficult to attempt a complete makeover of all the states. Successful reforms should be progressive because cases of abuse will still be expected. Building a reformed system from the county level will help look at the specific problems that may require attention.
Child protection is a delicate process that requires all stakeholders to have a common approach. The director requires support from his deputy and the entire staff to make reforms a reality. Other than the staff, the relationship with other agencies like the security agents, child advocacy groups and the parents. A system of information flow will help develop a positive environment for the children. The challenges will always exist when it comes to the children’s welfare; however, the concerted effort to deal with each case will help bring the reforms. The major effort should be to try and have policies that will encourage children to remain within their family setups. The families should be supported, trained and encouraged to keep their children safe. Removal of the neglected or abused children may lead to more psychological problems for the children and should only be the last resort.
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