TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Our children are often considered our future. But a new revelation of missed opportunities to protect children in Arizona now has the department in charge of it under fire and concerns about how many children might have slipped through the cracks and fallen victim to abuse.
"We don't know whether they're kids in danger, kids being molested, kids being otherwise physically abused, or kids who are not in danger. It's the unknown that's the scary part of all that," said Penelope Jacks, director of Children's Action Alliance Southern Arizona.
Six-thousand calls to Arizona's child abuse hotline have gone uninvestigated over the past four years. Now the director of the Department of Economic Security, which handles Child Protective Services, has to answer for it.
"This is highly, completely, and totally unacceptable what we have seen in the cursory review of these cases is of grave concern," DES director Clarence Carter told legislators in Phoenix Thursday.
DES was supposed to have a solution to the backlog Monday. As of Monday night, one had yet to be presented. But at least 125 of the cases have already been connected to possible abuse. Eric Schindler, the CEO of Child and Family Resources, said that lack of funding by the legislature not only to CPS but to preventive services is showing.
"Our legislature dramatically slashed funding for the prevention and early intervention and kinds of things that you can do to help families succeed so that kids don't end up being removed from the home or victims of abuse," Schindler said.
And advocates are saying that DES should have pushed harder for help to already overworked caseworkers. The governor has added 200 more to next year's budget. But Children's Action Alliance Southern Arizona is among those calling for director Carter's resignation.
"We were shocked but not surprised, or I should say appalled but not surprised. We think this is a new piece of an old puzzle," Jacks said.
Most of these cases are from the past two years. A team of Department of Public Safety detectives have had their caseloads reassigned so they can focus on investigating what went wrong at CPS and review its policies.