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Vulnerable kids forsaken in slashed DES budget

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

In action reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” the state Department of Economic Security is slashing services for the most defenseless Arizonans.

Do the names Ariana and Tyler Payne ring a bell? How about Brandon Williams?

All three little Tucson children were killed in 2007 in cases that revealed serious shortcomings in Child Protective Services.

The tragedies prompted then-state Rep. Jonathan Paton, a Tucson Republican now in the state Senate, to push through major reforms in the agency.

“The last people who should be cut are the ones who deal directly with children,” Paton said Wednesday.

Yet DES is ordering overburdened child caseworkers to take nine days off by June 30, and 620 workers will be laid off, mostly from CPS.

The layoffs, plus reduced investigations of child-risk reports, will save $31.7 million of the $153 million DES must cut by June 30.

Another $15.9 million is to be saved by reducing or eliminating in-home services for 4,000 kids in the child-welfare system and support services and allowances for children in out-of-home care.

Infants and toddlers at risk of developmental delays no longer will get DES help, and neither will children or adults with developmental disabilities.

Foster families’ reimbursements and temporary assistance to needy families will be slashed 20 percent.

One immediate ripple effect has been the layoffs of 63 workers at Child & Family Resources Inc., a Tucson-based agency that does work for DES.

But all the ripples will result in a tidal wave of uninvestigated abuse and neglect cases, putting more children’s lives at risk.

Arizonans have seen how poorly children fare even when CPS is conducting business as usual.

Now that nightmare scenario will be radically worsened, as hundreds of workers are eliminated just when children need them most.

When families are stressed by economic woes, as many are today, child abuse and neglect rates rise sharply.

Alcohol and drug abuse increase, and children pay the price – too often with their lives.

Of all areas in which to make cuts, DES is the worst choice. Yet it must cut 11 percent, even as prisons trim just 2 percent, as Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts reported.

Paton notes, “This is the worst deficit the state’s ever been in, and we’re the worst in the country.” Clearly, something’s got to give.

But the state’s priorities are skewed if leaders put at-risk children’s needs below those of our prison population.

We urge state leaders to revisit their cost-cutting and find a way to restore funds to protect children – Arizona’s most valuable resource.

Cut prisons or other agencies more, but for heaven’s sake, protect our children lest more tragedies befall them.

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