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Could child safety reforms have saved Roman Barreras?

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Could child safety reforms have saved Roman Barreras?

By Craig Smith. CREATED Mar 11, 2014

PHOENIX (KGUN9-TV) - Could child protection reforms proposed for Arizona have prevented the death of three year old Roman Barreras?

Arizona's new chief of child protection thinks they might have.

Roman Barreras skeleton was found last week hidden in a toy box.  His siblings told police he had been starved. Now his mother is charged with murder, his father charged with child abuse.

KGUN9 On Your Side's Craig Smith met in Phoenix with Charles Flanagan, the man Governor Brewer chose to lead the reform of our state's child protection.

At the Arizona Capitol, and at almost any other, it's a sad truth of politics. Often something terrible happens before there's reform. But could reform proposals have prevented what happened to Roman Barreras?

At the Memorial for Roman Barreras, neighbors offered food in death, the boy's siblings told authorities he did not have in life.

In Phoenix, KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked Charles Flanagan, head of the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services: "Why do the lessons have to be as hard as the death of a child, the death of multiple children before reform gets underway?
   
A long standing list of child protection failures led Governor Brewer to choose Juvenile Corrections Chief Charles Flanagan to reform child welfare months before we learned about Roman Barreras.

Flanagan says, "Unfortunately, we learn often because of what we call in state government, the headline test failure. When something bad happens then everybody wants to see it fixed."   

He says Arizona's child safety needs a thoughtful fix. Roman Barreras case illustrates one fix he has in mind.
     
Reports say caseworkers visited the Barreras family but Flanagan says each time caseworkers concluded Roman was okay, the cases officially closed and they lost the authority to check him until a new complaint came in.
 
He wants a process to keep checking a family when there's a risk parents and children will slide back into danger.

Craig Smith: "And in this case, the identifiable risk is the mom has a drug abuse problem?"

Flanagan: "Yes, and behaviors that come from that drug abuse problem that place the child at risk."
   
Flanagan wants better systems to give people confidence when they call Child Protection, their complaint will be pursued and he wants enough staff and training to help workers carry their caseloads without burning out, becoming less effective or quitting altogether.

The Division of Child Safety and Family Services, is an agency that answers directly to the Governor, and a bridge to the separate state department she wants to create. Lawmakers will have to approve the proposal for a separate child welfare department.  The Governor's office is still putting together a bill for lawmakers to consider.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith

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Craig enjoys using innovative writing and visuals to make difficult stories easier to understand. As a newsroom manager at KGUN 9, Craig was part of the team that won three best newscast awards from Arizona Associated Press