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Linda Valdez is on to something (Arizona Republic, 11/19/18).  Arizona’s child protective agency, the Department of Child Safety seems to be hoping no one will notice a particular bit of information.  More specifically, it hopes We the People won’t notice that an important bit of information is missing from the reams of data DCS routinely maintains.

The state’s legislature requires that DCS go to court and get a judge’s order before it removes a child from its parents.  That of course is standard procedure throughout the country.  What’s also standard procedure is that states give their CPS authorities an out.  If the child is in imminent danger, then the state can request an emergency hearing based on “exigent circumstances.”

That of course makes sense.  No one wants to see kids dying because the judicial system couldn’t grant them a hearing in time to prevent it. 

But what makes sense also can be misused.  We’ve seen that before in Houston where Judge Michael Schneider once ordered two CPS caseworkers to write essays proving to him that they understood parents’ constitutional rights.  Judges don’t do that the first time caseworkers claim an emergency when there was none.  They don’t do it the second time or likely even the tenth.  Schneider had obviously seen enough of CPS’s version of “emergency” conditions that just happened to allow them to bypass parents’ rights to a hearing.

Now it looks like Linda Valdez suspects the same thing to be going on in Arizona that Schneider found to be true in Houston.
A law that adds a court review before DCS can remove children from their parents’ custody went into effect this summer. But DCS doesn’t keep track of how often the agency uses an emergency clause to sidestep the process.
You’d think it would be easy enough to do, but DCS doesn’t.
From July 1 to October 31, there were 1,938 children removed from their homes after a judge agreed to issue a court order, Pitzl found…
There were a total of 3,175 removals from July to October, according to data DCS does report.
That would suggest that, in about 38% of cases of children taken by DCS, the parents didn’t get a timely hearing due to “exigent circumstances.”  But that’s not quite the case.
DaRonco told Pitzl the difference includes more than just the cases where DCS used exigent circumstances to avoid going to court.
For example, it can also include cases where parents voluntarily surrender their children, where the court itself initiates the removal and where the child is also involved with the juvenile justice system.
OK, so how many of those cases were claimed to have “exigent circumstances” by DCS?  DCS doesn’t know.  It doesn’t know because it doesn’t keep track of that information.  Why not?  DCS doesn’t say. 

That leads Valdez to ask obvious questions.
Is it because DCS doesn't know the importance of keeping the right data?
Or is it more convenient not to know?
My money’s on the second alternative.  Why? Because throughout the country, time and again, CPS agencies act in all but complete secrecy.  And organizations that operate secretly come to like doing so.  And then they come to depend on it.  Secrecy allows all sorts of bad behavior like incompetence on the part of caseworkers, like taking children into care who don’t need it, like failing to protect children at risk, like running roughshod over parents’ rights, like lying to courts about the need for emergency hearings, like having law clerks stamp orders for removal that were written by the agency and that no judge ever saw and for which no evidence was ever offered (the Maryanne Godboldo case in Detroit), like simply losing files on children in the system (Richmond, VA).

Far too often, when We the People do manage to learn something about what’s going on inside our child protective agencies, we’re appalled.  We see incompetence, disregard for the rights of parents and children and an arrogance that would shame a king.  Yes, Arizona should keep the data Valdez wants to see, but beyond that, it should open the doors of DCS so that the press and the people know in a timely manner just what public employees are up to.

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