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Arizona child advocacy groups set forum on CPS

PHOENIX -- A state oversight committee was likely to get an earful Tuesday night at a public forum intended to solicit ideas on improving the Child Protective Services agency amid revelations that more than 6,500 child abuse and welfare reports were illegally closed without an investigation.

Earlier in the day, the agency confirmed that five staffers have been placed on paid administrative leave as it investigates allegations of wrongdoing.

After ordering a state police investigation, Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday appointed an independent board to oversee investigations of the botched cases and identify areas at CPS that need improvement.

She defended the hand-picked head of the Department of Economic Security, Clarence Carter, who oversees CPS, saying she believed there was a breakdown in the chain of command between Carter and the agency. Still, she promised a full investigation and accountability.

Tuesday's forum will be held before the legislative committee that oversees CPS. Sponsored by the Children's Action Alliance and 10 other groups, it's not meant to involve any current cases or address existing problems at the agency.

Instead, it's designed to gather ideas from the public that can help the struggling child welfare agency better handle a growing number of abuse and neglect investigations.

``I think the real story needs to be what we are doing going forward,'' said Dana Naimark, president of the alliance.

At least three of the four lawmakers on the Legislature's CPS oversight committee will attend, Naimark said. Also expected are some of the people Brewer appointed to a new Child Advocate Response Examination team.

Juvenile Corrections director Charles Flanagan is leading the team Brewer put together on Monday. He said in an interview that his first task is to ensure that an initial review of the botched cases already completed by CPS was not done by people involved in initially labeling the cases as ``not investigated.''

``We will be looking at the decisions that were made and we will be making assignments of cases so that we can ensure that we have put eyes on every child and that we're doing everything we can to track them down,'' Flanagan said.

Along with overseeing the investigation of the closed cases, Flanagan's team is tasked with reviewing the agency's policies and practices and recommending changes.

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