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112 caseworkers laid off at CPS

Latest reduction to further hamper child abuse probes

Another round of job cuts to the state’s Child Protective Services program means 112 case specialists are out of jobs, leaving the staff 15 percent smaller than it was earlier this year.

That translates into fewer workers to investigate complaints about child abuse, a move that one state lawmaker predicted would lead to children dying due to abusive conditions.

The agency late last week laid off 112 specialists, bringing to 159 the total number of case workers and investigators who have been dismissed as the state Department of Economic Security makes cuts to help the state balance its current-year budget.

In all, 181 CPS workers have lost their jobs due to budget cuts. DES does not expect further cuts, but lawmakers have said new budget reductions may be needed this spring.

Lawmakers on Jan. 31 approved budget revisions to resolve a $1.6 billion budget deficit; DES’ contribution is $153 million. Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said CPS workers should not be cut to the same extent as other social-service programs.

“They should be the last ones to be cut because they interact with parents and kids,” said Paton, who last year, along with now-House Speaker Kirk Adams, led the charge to increase CPS funding and make the agency more transparent.

“I think it will result in dead kids,” Paton said.

The agency last month announced that a first round of cuts meant CPS would not be able to investigate all “potential risk” reports. These are the lowest level of suspected abuse cases, but Paton said the reports, also called “priority four” reports, can lead to horrific cases.

“I’ve seen some of those priority fours turn into ‘priority nevers,’ ” he said, even when the state was able to investigate.

Early, low-level complaints can uncover horrific conditions that could avert bigger problems down the road, he said.

He said he would work to find money to reverse the cuts, noting that lawmakers are expected to revisit the current-year budget this spring.

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