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A CPS 'misunderstanding'? Many KGUN9 viewers don't buy it

A CPS 'misunderstanding'? Many KGUN9 viewers don't buy it

CREATED Dec 19, 2012

Notes and commentary by Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director

Panicked parents, outraged legislators, and laid-off child care workers turning in their equipment:  These have been the sights and sounds of the season for Child Protective Services this year.  But CPS now says you can chalk it all up to a bureaucratic "misunderstanding."

Many KGUN9 viewers have chosen other, more pointed words to describe the situation.

9 On Your Side began covering this story nearly two weeks ago.  After CPS announced service cuts for several of its outside vendors -- including Aviva, which administers supervised parental visits for troubled families trying to piece themselves back together -- upset parents contacted 9 On Your Side.  They were having a hard time getting straight answers, and feared they might not be able to see their kids, in violation of court orders.  They were hoping we could do better in prying loose some facts from CPS.

We called.  Not to worry, CPS told us.  "Nothing has changed," the deputy director of the Child Welfare Program, Stacy Reinstein, assured 9 On Your Side in a phone interview.  CPS promised to bring the severed services in-house.  Even though CPS caseworkers already are notoriously overworked as it is, administrators assured us the agency would be able to meet its obligations for court-ordered supervised visits just fine using its own staff.

But while CPS was telling KGUN9 and other media one thing, at least some of its case workers were telling parents a different story.  An exclusive 9 On Your Side Investigation revealed a voice mail message where a case worker told a parent, "So there's going to be no more supervised visitation at all. We're going to have to work it out on our own."

Some state lawmakers told 9 On Your Side the situation is unacceptable, and vowed legislative action.

This week, CPS changed its tune.  No one in this busy agency could make room in their work day for a phone interview, but on Tuesday communications director Tasya Peterson did find time to craft a carefully worded statement, which she sent to KGUN9 by email.  "Unfortunately, misunderstanding within the Department resulted in providers and staff believing that adjustments below historic norms were required.  That was not the Department’s intent and is not accurate."  She went on to say that CPS would be contacting vendors to "clarify this miscommunication."

A day later, as of this writing, Aviva director Bob Heslinga is still waiting for that clarification.  "This 'miscommunication' cost 32 people their jobs," Heslinga told us.  He's desperate to learn whether and when he will be able to rehire any of those workers -- and said whatever happens, it's probably too late to gear the visitations back up before Christmas.

So -- let's review.  CPS announces service cuts but promises "nothing has changed."  Some parents report hearing a different story from case workers, and one has a voice mail message to prove it.  Amid howls of protests from parents and vendors, pressure from concerned lawmakers, and a barrage of inquiries from 9 On Your Side and other media - and after taking a week and a half to think about it -- CPS suddenly discovers that this is all a horrible "misunderstanding"?

Do you buy that?  You can make up your own mind about that, and many KGUN9 viewers have done just that.  Here's a sample of what some of you had to say via KGUN9's Facebook page and on KGUN9.com:

Michael James:  "Companies get away with stuff like this and no heads roll. They didn't make a mistake, they just didn't like what the public opinion was of CPS."

Gina Bowrosen:  "Inept."

Tracy Hubbartt:  "They knew how the public would react.  I've seen state agencies try many different tactics for funding, cutting off avenues for visits so close to the holidays.  They're thinking no way will the CPS budget take another hit next legislative session. Headlines mean money for any agency...."

Grace Machiche:  "CPS has never had any accountability for what they do. They can get away with murder, get in front of a judge and lie, and it is always blamed on those parents, that although SOME have made mistakes the children shouldn't pay for the incompetence of CPS. CPS needs to be reviewed and changes need to be done for the sake of these kids!!!  Enough is enough CPS!!!"

Jenny Tozzi:  "This is very BIG! How long before this schedule is put back into place? It sounds like there is no urgency to the matter. What about those employees? Is there a time frame as to when things will be back to normal? Come on CPS, this is people's families we're talking about! Good for the first person that contacted 9 On Your Side for this. Stay on top of them '9'"!

Katie Montgomery:  "I think CPS has so many issues it isn't even funny. I completely agree that they need the power to step in and say 'We feel this isn't a safe situation for this child' and remove them. However, they should have some limitations on how long they can remove them for. If they have no evidence of abuse, if they have no proof that any laws were broken then the children should be returned immediately. If they do have proof then they need to file formal charges and take these waste of skin parents to court. I can't understand how CPS can be above the law? From what I can tell they have to have no proof, no evidence. Just the word of an overworked social worker who has probably met the parents one time, if ever."

Grace Machiche:  ".... Now this taking money and jobs away from wonderful people at AVIVA. Those people that work there are the ones with a heart. They should be the case workers. Great job AVIVA.  We are proud of what you do and KGUN needs to help those workers get their jobs back."

Deborah Worthey:  "CPS should also do more in depth investigations before they rip children from a good loving mother's arms.... Even when you kiss their feet and do everything they tell you to do, most people still lose their entire world. Like I did."

Tami Hueston Pate:  "Just another cover up from CPS.  They are crooked."

Jacquie Brubaker:  "Someone needs to find out why they all of a sudden don't have the money. From what I understand they got the money that they forecasted what they needed. Think its time for an audit."

Mollie Hunter:  "Who is assembling a team of lawyers to represent the families and children in a suit against the state of AZ ? Let's get going!!"

Rodney Raines:  "If anyone that works for CPS has a moving mouth, they are lying. They will lie in court."

You've heard us say it before:  "You ask, we investigate."  Parents have asked KGUN9 to stay on top of this story, and we intend to do just that.  In particular, 9 On Your Side's Craig Smith will have a full update today on KGUN9 News at 6 (Wednesday, December 19). This coverage commitment will continue as long as you have unanswered questions.

As we state in our 9 On Your Side Viewers' Bill of Rights, KGUN9 believes public officials have a duty in our democracy to be responsive to the public about the public's business.  Accordingly, we often report back to you the level of responsiveness we are able to get from public officials when seeking answers on your behalf.   CPS owes the public much more of an explanation than it's given to date.  We will continue pressing, as promised, for more answers -- exactly as many of you are asking us to do.

That's what we think.  Tell us what you think.  Join in the conversation by adding  your comments to this or any story you see posted on KGUN9.com, or by visiting KGUN9.com's Facebook page.