Child abuse: two words that should never have to be grouped in the same sentence, but sadly Arizona increasingly has paired them up. Unfortunately, cases are piling up and responses aren’t where they need to be.
According to the Arizona Department of Child Safety, as of June 2015 the rate at which children are removed from their housing has risen 18.2 percent in the last year. Of these cases 85.6 percent are the result of neglect.
The department’s website claims that every report of abuse is investigated, which is plausible, but according to its Child Welfare Semi-Annual Report, 62.5 percent of the time cases are classified as low- or zero-risk situations. Response time for these cases can range from 72 hours to a week, according to the 2015 Arizona Department of Child Safety Independent Review, conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago under a contract with the Arizona Office of the Auditor General.
In 2014, cases classified such as these were ignored the most in Pima County according to the report. Reports of 221 potential cases were left without responses, an outlier to the 32 cases left untouched in Maricopa, 34 cases in Mohave, two cases in Navajo and 13 cases in Yavapai counties.
Who would call in and report a false case of child abuse? Besides the psychos that think it’s funny to cry wolf, the community believes that if a child is in danger, it’s the government’s responsibility to do everything in its power to investigate the claim.
According to the Review, caseworkers have too large a load and often do not correctly assess and document risk situations. After personally going through some of the cases of the past year, it’s easy to see this trend.
In July, a 1-year-old was brought to a hospital in Tucson and found to have non-accidental trauma. The parents have not been prosecuted despite having two prior unresolved cases from 2012 and 2014.
In August, a 2-year-old in Tucson nearly died from an overdose of Tylenol. The mother has yet to be prosecuted and has two prior disputes, both within this year.
Hardly able to talk, these two children have already had close encounters with death, something not even the bravest toddler should have to bear. Although it may not seem lucky, compared to what’s happened elsewhere across the state, these two children aren’t the worst tragedies.
In August, a 3-year-old in Kingman, Arizona, died after being taken to a hospital. As of now, both parents have been arrested but not since prosecuted. The mother had five previous charges dating back to 2007, but all had since been closed except the most recent one in 2014.
In January, a 16-month-child died in a hospital in Phoenix after sustaining severe internal injuries. The mother has no prior record, but the boyfriend had four cases of abuse on his record with a different family and entirely different child dating back to 2009. His last case was closed in 2012, but he has since has been prosecuted for the death of the child. The mother has been prosecuted for failing to protect her daughter.
Countless cases like these fill the department's information releases, and it’s heartbreaking. Multiple cases involve parents who’ve had previous run-ins with the police but were never officially charged. Instead of tipping off the police that these people shouldn’t ever be allowed near kids, the Department of Child Safety failed to prosecute these abusers, allowing them to continue hurting children.
The department has improved significantly in the past few years, with phone response-times under 60 seconds and an increase in in-home visits according to the Arizona Republic, but there is still work to be done.
Every child deserves a safe and healthy home: a place where they can relax. Until we start cracking down on child abusers, they’re going to continue cracking kids' skulls.
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