An additional 325 children whose cases were among the 6,554 files marked “not investigated” have also been removed since the fiasco at Child Protective Services became public in late November. However, most of those removals happened after a second or third complaint came in to the agency’s hotline, raising the question of whether the children might have been safer if the agency had responded to earlier reports.
“It tells us these cases should have been investigated initially and should not have been (marked) NI,” said Charles Flanagan, head of Brewer’s Child Advocate Response Examination Team. “It tells us the child is not safe in that (home) environment.”
Brewer assembled the team of child-welfare workers, lawmakers and law enforcement after the “NI” files were discovered.
Flanagan said it is difficult to report the reasons the children were removed from their homes — and whether they’re still under state care — while the team is still plowing through the 6,554 cases. That would take time away from Brewer’s mandate that the team put “eyes” on every child mentioned in the files. The process also is complicated by what Flanagan called an “antiquated” database that is difficult to work with.
However, when the team has completed its work, there will be a report categorizing the reasons for removal, he said. The team has a Jan. 31 deadline to finish reviewing all the cases and give Brewer a report on how the child-welfare system can best move forward.
However, it will take longer than that to investigate all the cases the team decides need a deeper look.
Many of the neglected files involved cases that were categorized as lower-priority calls by staffers on the state’s child-abuse hotline. But others clearly were more urgent, Flanagan said, noting that 119 cases required an immediate response, based on notes in the case files.
In addition, 18 percent of the neglected files involved children who were the subject of later reports that resulted in at least 316 children being removed. Flanagan’s team had checked on 3,873 children as of its latest report Wednesday evening. It has assigned 91 percent of them to caseworkers and has responded to 48.4 percent of the “NI” cases, he said.
Flanagan said his team has provided more detail on child abuse and neglect cases than Child Protective Services did in the past. That is due largely to Brewer’s demand that the team conduct its work in a transparent manner, which has resulted in daily progress reports.
But there are limits. The database in which child-abuse and neglect reports are logged is creaky, and caseworkers must come into the office to enter data. It’s impossible to work with the database remotely, Flanagan said. Even if that were possible, the database program was not written in a way that would give staffers the information they need, he said.
Brewer on Monday announced that she had abolished CPS and moved the division, which housed the agency, to her Cabinet, with Flanagan in charge. She renamed it the Division of Child Safety and Family Services and wants it to be a stand-alone state agency.