9OYS Continuing Coverage
"Help is on the way": CPS caseworkers fully staffed for first time in years
Reporter: Marcelino Benito
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's a problem so big 9OYS has made a commitment to you our viewers and our community to covering it. The crisis in our state's Child Protective Services and foster care systems. After months of coverage there is finally some good news on both fronts.
"The work they [caseworkers] do is one of the most difficult jobs physically, emotionally, it's draining," said Tasya Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Security.
Being a caseworker is a job the average person isn't cut out for. It's why there's been a caseworker shortage here in Arizona for seven years.
"It's hard for CPS workers because they've had to juggle large case loads," said Susie Huhn, executive director at Casa de los Ninos.
Those large case loads has led to CPS failures or oversights like the one that may have led to the death of 1-year-old Za'Naya Flores back in January.
"There have been some unfortunate incidents that have led to tragedies," said Peterson.
But now, light at the end of the tunnel. CPS caseworker staffing is now at 100 percent. It's the first time the agency has seen such levels since 2005.
"This is a huge accomplishment for the agency," said Peterson.
9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito went to Casa de Los Ninos to get the agency's reaction to the staffing boost.
"Sure, it's always a step in the right direction," said Huhn. "I'm thrilled that they're filling what they have, but it's still a lot of new positions that have never done this work. It won't be an immediate relief for the system."
CPS agrees. Seeing tangible change will take some time.
"They are not things you will see overnight," said Peterson.
In fact, CPS tells 9OYS it takes 22 weeks to train a caseworker. Right now, there are 245 people in training, 785 caseworkers in the field and 67 caseworkers running the Child Abuse Hotline.
"There's just lots of tearing down of systems of care in the last three years," Huhn said. "You can't just rebuild it overnight."
CPS has been dealing with a very high turnover rate as well, but they hope to keep the hiring momentum going to deal with any future loss of workers. Poor staffing historically made for long wait times and too many abandoned calls. The rate of dropped calls on the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline has fallen from 20 percent to 8 percent.