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Gov. Jan Brewer to discuss child welfare overhaul plan

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was expected to outline her administration's proposal to overhaul the state child welfare agency Thursday.

The governor was also expected to call the Legislature into special session to debate the proposal early next week.

Brewer's office has called a press conference where she's expected to make the announcement. Her budget director and the new head of the child welfare division she created in January will also be present.

Brewer created the agency after revelations late last year that more than 6,500 abuse and neglect reports phoned into the agency's child abuse hotline were closed without investigation.

A panel Brewer created that includes lawmakers, new agency chief Charles Flanagan, Brewer's chief of staff and others who worked for months on legislation to remake the former Child Protective Services department.

Brewer was given about $59 million in additional funding for the agency for the coming budget year but she wants more.

Five senior Arizona child welfare employees were fired last month for their role in executing a plan to deal with an overwhelmed staffed by closing cases after a paper review. A senior administrator in the Department of Economic Security, formerly CPS' parent agency, also was fired.

Flanagan cited a lack of policies and procedures by the agency workers that led to illegal actions. The five fired CPS workers said they were following orders and were made scapegoats for an agency struggling to deal with soaring workloads and abandoned by the governor and Legislature.

Outlines of the proposal circulating among lawmakers in recent weeks show the new agency is designed to be more transparent as it investigates abuse and neglect reports, promotes child safety and family reunification or other permanent placement.

Provisions include a new data system that will allow workers to track individual cases, authority to contract out services and retain outside lawyers to advise the director. The proposed legislation also creates an inspections bureau to ensure that internal policies are followed, and lays out specific guidelines for responding to hotline complaints to avoid a repeat of the problem that prompted Brewer to "abolish CPS as we know it."

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