State official promises probe of abuse cases

 By Bob Christie

Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — A plan to respond to 6,000 child abuse reports that Arizona failed to investigate in recent years was expected to be released Monday as Gov. Jan Brewer continues to support the official in charge of the agency that let the cases languish.
Department of Economic Director Clarence Carter has identified a number of Child Protective Services staffers who will be assigned to investigate the cases, department spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said.

An exact number of staffers has not been determined, but Brewer has approved using overtime for the urgent job.

So far, authorities re-examining the cases have identified at least 125 in which children were later alleged to have been abused. No deaths have been connected to the lapses.

Carter revealed the problems last week and was grilled by members of the Legislature’s Child Protective Services oversight committee on Thursday. Some Democrats have called on him to resign, but Brewer, a Republican, is standing by him — for now.

“Once we know what happened, then accountability will take place,” Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

State police are reviewing how the mistakes occured, Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said. A captain, sergeant and four detectives will have their caseloads reassigned and focus only on the CPS investigation.

The investigation is designed to determine who authorized the cases to be designated as “Not Investigated” and to review the department’s policies. But it is administrative in nature, and any findings of potential criminal actions will be handled by another team or agency, Graves said.

State law requires that reports phoned into a child abuse hotline be investigated. Yet beginning in November 2009, some cases were closed before being sent to a field office for investigation by a team of specialists trying to clear a backlog.

The practice was suspended, briefly renewed the next year, and suspended again.

But beginning about 20 months ago, a new team designed to help the agency overcome an ongoing backlog revived the practice. More than 5,000 of the 6,000 cases that were not investigated happened since that time. Law enforcement agents assigned to the agency’s child welfare investigations unit discovered the closed cases in recent weeks.