Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Caseworker cuts leave kids helpless, maybe dead

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

The Child Protective Services caseworker staff has been slashed beyond recognition – a bizarre action given the gruesome trial under way in Tucson.

In all, 159 caseworkers and investigators’ jobs have been eliminated – leaving the already inadequate staff 15 percent smaller than it was a year ago.

As Tucsonans learned all too well in 2007, an understaffed, inefficient CPS can’t protect children from horrific crimes.

But for a few bureaucratic bungles, CPS workers might have been able to prevent the starvation deaths of 3-year-old Ariana Payne and her 4-year-old brother Tyler.

Instead, the youngsters were locked in a closet and deprived of sustenance till they died. Ariana’s body was found in a plastic tub in a storage unit trash bin Feb. 18, 2007. Her brother’s body still hasn’t been found.

Now their father, Christopher Payne, is on trial in their murders.

Their deaths – as well as the abuse and ultimate killing of Brandon Williams, 5 – all occurred in Tucson, and all three children had current or past CPS caseworkers when they died.

The slayings led to public legislative hearings with CPS managers, at the insistence of outraged Tucson Republican Sen. Jonathan Paton (then in the House) and House Speaker Kirk Adams of Mesa.

Along with eventual action to increase CPS’ transparency and improve its procedures came a vow to increase its caseworker staff.

Instead, the state employees whose work is most critical to child safety now have been grossly reduced.

Meanwhile, legislators are poised to support Gov. Jan Brewer’s request and maintain child care subsidies that were to have been cut.

We’ll be delighted if working parents get the subsidies for 20,000 kids. But if state leaders can recognize that need, surely they can see why children in peril need help.

CPS is the only Arizona agency that can provide that help. Law enforcement and others may try to intervene, but only CPS caseworkers are empowered to take on and track kids’ cases, even when parents object.

These workers are the lifeline for children in dangerous families. Such dangers are heightened during any economic downturn, when stressed adults are more apt to resort to alcohol, drugs and violence.

These staff cuts must be reversed, even if reductions must be made in other social service arenas. As Paton said, the reduction of this staff “will result in dead kids.”

Balancing the state budget is one thing, but leaving helpless children at the mercy of heartless tormentors is another. If any area of the budget should be off-limits, the CPS caseworker staff is the one.

Our Opinion

The one budget area that should be off-limits to severe cuts is for CPS caseworkers – the very lifeline for kids in peril.

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