Our View: The Department of Child Safety needs more information and transparency. These bills would offer both.
Two bills sponsored by Republican Rep. Kate Brophy McGee show the kind of reasoned, cooperative efforts necessary to move beyond tragedy and passion to make Arizona’s new Department of Child Safety work.
Brophy McGee says the push for more transparency represents “a delicate balancing act” that must open the agency to more public scrutiny while protecting privacy of victims and their families, and assuring that investigations and prosecutions are not compromised.
Both bills passed out of the House Children and Family Affairs committee unanimously this week.
Gov. Doug Ducey is “very supportive,” and his staff has been working closely with Brophy McGee, Ducey’s office says. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is also supportive of the goals and working with Brophy McGee on changes to make one of the bills more reflective of prosecutors’ needs, his office says.
That bill, HB 2166, mandates more openness, which Brophy McGee says is “key to solving the deeply ingrained problems of our child-safety system.”
Her bill requires detailed information about previous DCS (Department of Child Safety) involvement to be included in a public report following a fatality, near fatality or in cases of egregious abuse or neglect.
The purpose is to provide complete information in a meaningful context. That doesn’t always happen.
For example, 19-month-old Angel Rodriguez died after authorities say he was beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, George Hernandez. But a report from DCS (Department of Child Safety) last October says the agency had “no prior reports of abuse or neglect involving Angel Rodriguez and George Hernandez.”
It does not say that Baby Angel had been in the custody of foster parents most of his life or that Hernandez had a history of violence and domestic abuse unrelated to the child.
The report did not give a full picture — a problem Brophy McGee says goes well beyond this single case.
The preference for confidentiality over disclosure can protect important privacy or prosecutorial interests, but it can also hide hideous mistakes. The long-standing argument in favor of secrecy is that federal law mandates confidentiality. This is a convenient misinterpretation, which has allowed Arizona’s child welfare agency to bury its mistakes.
Efforts to peel back the shroud of secrecy around child welfare is an ongoing process. This bill identifies an endemic problem and seeks to remedy it. Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in an e-mail that the governor believes increased transparency “will lead to better outcomes for children.”
The other bill, HB 2640, is also a direct response to an identified problem. It has Ducey and Montgomery’s support. This one is called “Angel’s Law” because it might have saved the toddler Hernandez is accused of battering to death.
Angel was returned to his mother by DCS even though she was living with Hernandez, who had a history of violence. The child was killed a few months later.
Brophy McGee’s bill would require DCS to check the background of all those living in the house or who are in a relationship with a member of the household. Any history of domestic violence or sexual assault would be taken into consideration when determining if the child will be safe.
This should be common sense. But Angel Rodriguez’s death shows it is not common practice.
These two bills represent necessary changes. They will help assure the DCS leaves behind the fatally flawed habits of the agency it replaced.