CPS Database Glitch Causing Headaches

In June, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (“DES”) discovered a glitch in the computer program that Child Protective Services (“CPS”) uses to disclose records and information about pending cases and investigations.

Statistically, the scope of the glitch is staggering.  According to one Arizona Republic report, DES sent out over 30,000 notices to attorneys, parents, law-enforcement, and media members.  Those notices pertain to 11,336 separate records requests since August 2010, but the notices are not specific as to the nature of records which were erroneously withheld.  DES officials estimate that about two-thirds of the requested records were erroneously withheld.

Although some of the withheld records are redundant with the information which was disclosed, DES has issued no guidelines as to what type of information was not disclosed.  DES has declared that their legal obligations to disclose the glitch have been met, and that it is now up to attorneys to follow up on the notices they have received and determine whether a request for more information from DES is appropriate.  Some attorneys have received hundreds of notices, so the amount of work necessary to re-open and investigate each case is burdensome, at best.

DES insists that the most important cases are those which recently concluded or are currently pending (over 8,500 child-dependency cases are currently pending in county courts).  Limitations on the timeliness of challenges to these decisions, particularly in finalized adoption cases, dramatically increase the importance of quick responses by attorneys and families who may not have received important disclosures while their cases were pending.

Furthermore, many people who sorted out their claims in Family Court were not represented by attorneys – it is even more difficult for these individuals to learn whether the withheld records would have made a significant difference in the outcomes of their cases.

This disclosure glitch is highly reminiscent of the so-called “Arizona DUI Data Dump Fiasco” of the late-1990s, in which undisclosed changes to the Department of Public Safety’s “Intoxilyzer 5000” machine’s computer databases led to five years of critical calibration and other information being withheld from DUI defendants and their attorneys.  The “Data Dump” led to years of litigation and thousands of successful petitions to suppress breath tests on the basis that the State had withheld or destroyed evidence that might have proved exculpatory to defendants.

Perhaps the most troubling fact about the CPS glitch is that no one is certain whether the withheld information would have significantly impacted cases.  Some of the information was likely no different than what was contained in the records which were properly disclosed, but many other records were never revealed to attorneys representing families, defendants, and other claimants in CPS-related cases.

Going forward, DES officials expect that this glitch will require a tremendous amount of resources as more and more attorneys request the disclosure of wrongly withheld records.  For anyone whose case was resolved over the course of the past two years, it is wise to contact an attorney who might investigate further.  Time is of the essence, and only a case-by-case examination of withheld records will reveal if the CPS glitch materially affected your outcome.

To read the Arizona Republic’s report on the CPS database glitch, click the following link: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/20121023cps-big-glitch-debate-over-obligations-continues.html?nclick_check=1


Phoenix Foster Parents Arrested

On October 11, a husband and wife were arrested by Phoenix police after a yearlong investigation.  Police say that the man abused seven of his 15 foster children over a six-year period, and that this wife did nothing to stop it.

According to the Arizona Republic, there are over 14,000 children in Arizona’s foster care system.  As a state, Arizona ranks 38th in the nation in child poverty and 39th in overall child well-being (statistics courtesy of the Arizona’s Children Association). 

Although most foster parents are responsible, generous individuals who provide for the children in their care, there are rare cases in which foster parents abuse, neglect, or exploit the children placed in their homes.

The State of Arizona has two chief measures in place to ensure that foster parents are providing a safe environment for their foster children.  First, Child Protective Services (CPS) employs a number of social workers who are tasked with visiting foster homes and affirming that the children are receiving adequate care.  Unfortunately, CPS lacks the necessary funding and personnel to check every home, every month.

The second failsafe is licensing.  Per A.R.S. § 8-509, foster parents must undergo training, receive fingerprint clearance cards, and pass criminal background checks in order to receive foster parenting licenses.  In addition, the homes of prospective foster parents must be inspected, and all of these licensing requirements are repeated each year before renewal. 

As evidenced by the unfortunate case mentioned above, however, licensing and welfare checks are imperfect mechanisms to prevent abuse in foster homes.  An individual who completes the licensing process and whose home is suitable for foster children is not necessarily also a good parent.  Sometimes, foster parents, for reasons unknown (and perhaps unknowable), may pose a greater danger to children than the parents whose mistakes sent their children into foster care.

None of this is meant to suggest that foster homes are inherently dangerous.  The majority of foster parents do a fantastic job of caring for children.  Occasionally, foster parents are falsely accused of abuse or neglect in a vain attempt by biological parents to have their children returned to them.  In Arizona, foster parents have rights, including the right to contest the removal of a child in their care.

To read the original story, click the following link: http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/20121012phoenix-foster-parents-sex-abuse-abrk.html



Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, and Mandatory Reporting

When the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child abuse scandal broke, it was nothing short of a hot topic in my lectures about the mandatory reporting of child abuse.  And now that Sandusky has been sentenced I expect his case to come to the forefront again.

During his sentencing this week, Sandusky addressed the court – the first time he’s done so since he was arrested last November.  Sandusky painted himself as a victim, not a monster.  He blamed the media for being in the position he is in, claiming innocence regarding the “disgusting acts” for which he was being sentenced.  In other words, Sandusky is delusional.  It takes a real monster to think that scores of victims and numerous media professionals put their reputations on the line in order to take him down.

As I have mentioned before, Sandusky is not the only criminal in this scandal.  His superiors and the “higher-ups” at Penn State share some blame.  Not only did Penn State help create this monster, they did nothing to stop him.  Mandatory reporting laws, and here I’m referring mainly to Arizona’s MR law as I am most familiar with it, are in place to protect vulnerable children.

In Arizona, A.R.S. §13-3620 requires that school personnel, among others, report to police or to Child Protective Services any reasonable belief that a child has been the victim of physical injury, abuse, or neglect.  The Pennsylvania mandatory reporting statute, 23 Pa C.S. § 6311, requires a person who suspects child abuse in the course of his or her employment report that suspicion to the “person in charge” of the institution.  The Pennsylvania law appears narrower on its face than its Arizona counterpart, but the fact that employees, coaches, and administrators at Penn State may not have violated the mandatory reporting statute in their State does not absolve them of moral culpability for failing to protect children who they knew were in danger.

If Mike McQueary, the assistant coach who witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in Penn State’s football locker room in 2002, had made a report to Pennsylvania Social Services who knows how this would have turned out.  If someone within Penn State who McQueary approached after he witnessed the truly disgusting act had made a report, Sandusky may have been put away before he could victimize more children.  But these are all ‘ifs’.  The mandatory reporting law is in place to avoid these types of situations.

As I tell the doctors and teachers and other professionals who attend my lectures regarding mandatory reporting, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  It is questionable under Pennsylvania law whether McQueary had a duty to report what he saw to the authorities.  But that does not take away from his moral duty to report what he saw. And I think this applies to McQueary’s superiors as well.  Either way, all of these people cannot shake their head when they hear Sandusky the Monster say delusional things like he did during sentencing.  They helped create that monster, and a thirty-year prison sentence cannot correct all of the harm that they allowed to occur by failing to act.