Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Legislative bill would hamper child protection

Citizen Staff Writer

Arizona’s checkered record of protecting children could take a turn for the worse if a bill in the Legislature becomes law.

SB1430 would make it more difficult for Child Protective Services to come to the aid of abused or neglected children.

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, purports to give parents needed rights if CPS is investigating them. But parental rights already are well protected by the law and by the courts at every step of the process.

The most troublesome aspect of the bill would require CPS workers to make “reasonable” efforts to contact parents and tell them of “allegations and specified rights” before removing from a home a child who may have been abused or neglected.

Suppose that children are left alone at home or found wandering. How much time must a CPS employees make a “reasonable” effort to find parents before the children are taken to a safe place?

What if police raid a meth lab where children live? If the parents aren’t there or flee when police arrive, how long would a “reasonable” effort to locate them take before the children are removed to safety?

Suppose that a teacher notices bruises on a child and, as is required, notifies CPS. Before any investigation is conducted, the parents must be found and told of the allegations – giving them adequate time to coach the children before they are questioned by authorities.

None of these are far-fetched scenarios. All are situations that CPS employees routinely encounter.

Other parts of the bill are also troubling:

• Courts would be required to use the higher legal standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” instead of the current “clear and convincing evidence” standard before children are removed from a home. This would unnecessarily hamper investigators in what may not be a criminal case.

• Parents could keep CPS workers from entering homes – a move that could make it impossible to investigate allegations.

Arizona’s record of looking out for children is inconsistent even under current law. The state Auditor General’s Office found last year that CPS was failing to investigate every report of child abuse, as required by law, and that investigations sometimes took too long, putting children in jeopardy.

CPS employees are not to blame. The agency has been plagued by a high caseload and low pay for employees with extremely stressful jobs. SB1430 would only add to the stress and make their jobs more difficult.

SB1430 has passed the Senate and been sent to the House. It should die there. But should the bill make it to Gov. Janet Napolitano’s desk, we are confident she will veto it.

Liz Barker, a spokesman for CPS, said it clearly: “This is just going to make the job of protecting children harder.”

That must not happen.

Say ‘cheese’

Congratulations to the space scientists at the University of Arizona, who built a camera that was sent into orbit around Mars – 145 million miles away.

Last week, they tested the camera, and it worked perfectly. At a time when many of us have problems operating a digital camera that we can hold in our hands, this is an astounding accomplishment.

The skill and sheer brainpower of our local scientists never ceases to amaze.

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