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Updated Feb 24, 2014 - 2:03 pm

Child-welfare chief tells panel new agency needs time to find footing

PHOENIX -- The new head of the Arizona's child welfare agency told an oversight committee on Monday that it will be months before a solid structure at the embattled agency is set in place.

Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Charles Flanagan as head of the renamed Division of Child Safety and Family Services, which is now a stand-alone department. He was also tasked with investigating why more than 6,500 cases of abuse and neglect reports received no response.

Flanagan oversaw a review of Child Protective Services that found the cases were not investigated due to systemic failure, a lack of accountability and transparency and bad decision-making. The Arizona CARE team, which conducted the review, also found that law enforcement agencies were underused as a resource for investigating child abuse and neglect and that CPS had been severely understaffed.

Flanagan presented those and other findings to the Legislature's Child Protective Services oversight committee, but he focused on the need to hire more caseworkers and to do a better job of retaining them. He also spoke extensively of the need for the new agency to be transparent.

Several members of the committee asked what Flanagan's timeline was to fill both caseworker positions and his own cabinet, for which he has done little hiring.

Flanagan said he does not have a deadline but is already moving along on the process. The agency has traditionally had a 20 to 35 percent turnover rate, he said.

"You will hold me accountable, I'm sure, but we're doing things much more quickly when it comes to these processes," Flanagan said.

Flanagan said having adequate staffing and well-trained caseworkers with proper supervision is key to improving services. He added that improving transparency was paramount.

"We failed these families and these children and we did it because we wanted to hide the workload and that's unacceptable," he said.

Members of the committee gave Flanagan, who is also the head of the state's juvenile corrections department, high praise for his work so far.

"I think the report was outstanding. I think the work in this timeframe was outstanding," committee member Joe Jacober said.

But he asked Flanagan to give the committee more evidence of how he planned to make the new agency more transparent.

Flanagan said he was going to keep the Arizona CARE Team website updated weekly. He also said he wanted to create a system that better facilitates reporting within the organization and to the public.

"When we screw up -- because that's going to happen -- we need to be able to report," he said. "We need to be open and to be open to critique and to questions from the outside."

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